France vows to tear down gypsy camps

FRANCE vowed on Wednesday to tear down illegal Gypsy camps and expel Gypsies from other EU states who break the law, after President Nicolas Sarkozy said the minority posed security “problems”.

The announcement followed crisis talks called by Sarkozy as part of his declared “war on crime” and which prompted rights groups to accuse him of stigmatising the Roma, Gypsy and traveller minorities.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said 300 illegal “camps or squats” housing Gypsies and travellers would be shut down and foreign Gypsies breaking the law would undergo “virtually immediate” deportation to their countries of origins.

Mr Sarkozy warned ahead of the meeting that some members of the itinerant minorities pose security “problems”, in response to an attack on a police station in Saint-Aignan, central France last week.

Masked rioters tried to break down the door of the station, damaged other buildings and burned cars during that attack, sparked after police shot dead a Gypsy during a car chase..

Gypsy groups and political opponents complained that Mr Sarkozy’s approach stigmatises minority communities and did not distinguish between ethnic Roma and Gypsies, and the separate community of French “travellers”.

“As happens too often in history, Gypsies are once more being made scapegoats by a ruling class tangled up in political and financial scandals,” the Gypsy rights association UFAT said.

“If Nicolas Sarkozy must repeat his declaration of war, the Collective of Gypsy Associations will be prompted to take legal action for incitement to racial hatred,” it said.

The group said it wanted Mr Sarkozy to meet its representatives to begin a dialogue to try to find a solution for the 400,000 Gypsies and travelling people in France.

Authorities estimate meanwhile that in France there are about 15,000 Roma, an ethnic group widespread in eastern Europe.

Most in France are thought to be from Romania and Bulgaria, which both joined the EU in 2007. Many live in slums in suburbs such as Aubervilliers on the outskirts of Paris.

“I don’t like the fact that the Elysee holds a summit at a moment like this,” reacting only in the wake of the violence, Socialist mayor Jacques Salvator said.

“The state and Europe must unite to develop a public policy for the Roma,” he said. “We are cobbling a system together locally… but for moment we are cobbling it together on our own.”

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