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Wednesday, 18 August 2010


French President Nicolas Sarkozy's drive to expel illegal Roma from the country has provoked criticism from the Roma themselves and a backlash from within the ranks of his own centre-right party. On Sunday (15 August), over 250 cars and caravans belonging to Roma people were used to block a major road outside the southwestern city of Bordeaux. It is the first major protest to take place since the closure of illegal Roma camps began two weeks ago and it caused serious disruption on the public holiday weekend, French radio station RFI reported. Since Mr Sarkozy's crackdown started on 6 August, over 40 camps affecting some 700 adults and children have been closed, with the government aiming to shut down 300 in total over the coming months. Any illegal immigrants are to be deported to their country of origin. The president's move against illegal Roma is part of a wider security clampdown that began in the wake of the shooting of a youth by police in the Loire Valley in July. The killing, carried out after the youth committed an armed robbery at a casino, provoked a riot. Mr Sarkozy subsequently proposed tough new laws, including stripping French nationality from those who attempt to take the life of a police officer, thereby becoming the first French head of state to openly link immigrants and crime.

The proposals have attracted opprobrium from the left of France's political establishment but the action against the Roma camps has also drawn criticism from within the president's centre-right UMP party. Following the latest raid on Saturday on a camp in an eastern Paris suburb, UMP law-maker Jean-Pierre Grand said the government's policy was "turning disgraceful" and likened the camp evictions to round-ups during World War II. Mr Grand said he had to react after hearing "that the authorities, arriving very early in the morning, break up families, sending men to one side and women and children on the other, and threatening to separate mothers and children." He went on to note that these type of evictions do not work, as the Roma tend to regroup later. Other conservative politicians have also spoken out against the tightening security laws. In an interview with Le Parisien, ex-minister Christin Boutin, president of the UMP-allied Christian Democrat Party (PCD), called for an end to "cultivating fear" and "putting people up against one another." "Stigmatisation of one or another community exacerbates violence," she noted, adding that many French people have foreign origins, including the president himself, who has a Hungarian background.

While the EU has largely declined to comment on Paris' intentions towards illegal Roma or its proposed new laws, the UN has been quite blunt. An anti-racism panel from the United Nations last week said that France is experiencing "a significant resurgence of racism" and lacked the political will to deal with the problem. Some members of the panel expressed concern over the nature of the political discourse in the country, including on national identity and immigration. However, a survey last week by the pro-government Le Figaro newspaper indicates the hardline approach may make Mr Sarkozy, who has been slumping in the polls, more popular. The survey showed strong public support for his security crackdown, including 79 percent of those asked in favour of the dismantling of gypsy camps.