One third of French people say they are racist, a French human rights watchdog said on Tuesday, after a survey that showed an increase from last year in the number of people who acknowledged being racist.

Some 33 percent of 1,011 people surveyed face-to-face by pollsters CSA said they were "somewhat" or "a little" racist, up 8 percentage points from last year, according to an annual report by the National Consultative Commission for Human Rights.

The poll asked the question "When it comes to you personally, would you say you are …" followed by a list of options: somewhat racist, a bit racist, not racist, not very racist, not racist at all and don’t want to say.

The poll revealed deep economic and social anxiety, Joel Thoraval, the commission’s president, said in a statement released to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"Despite the efforts deployed to fight racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia there is still a long way to go," he said.

The report, presented to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, was conducted from November 17-22, 2005, immediately after several weeks of rioting in poor suburbs around the country.

Thousands of cars were torched by youths who said they faced discrimination, police harassment and lack of access to jobs. Youth unemployment rises to 50 percent in some poor urban areas.

France does not keep official statistics on the number of people belonging to ethnic groups, arguing that to do so would undermine social cohesion and go against its republican ideals.

France has Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim minorities with about 600,000 Jews and 5 million Muslims, mainly of north African origin.

Asked about their main fears for French society 27 percent listed unemployment. Insecurity and poverty were cited by 16 and 11 percent respectively as their primary concern.

Right-wing politician Jean-Marie Le Pen stunned France when he came second in the first round of presidential elections in 2002 against President Jacques Chirac, espousing policies that included a tough line on foreigners.

The French League of Human Rights said in a press release that politicians trivialised racism and associated petty crime, economic crisis and housing shortages with an excessive number of foreigners.

The number of violent racist or xenophobic acts reported to the authorities fell to 88 in 2005 from 169 in 2004, partly because of a sharp drop in Corsica, which accounted for almost half of all such acts in 2004, the commission’s report said.

But the number of threats reported fell at a slower rate, to 382 in 2005 from 461 in 2004, the commission said.

Separately, Europe’s top human rights body, the Council of Europe, issued a region-wide call for vigilance against the spread of discrimination, hate speech and stereotyping across different forms of media.