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France defends gypsy camp policy

France has promised to continue dismantling illegal gypsy encampments and sending their inhabitants back to Eastern Europe despite widespread international criticism.

Interior minister Brice Hortefeux defended the operation - which has seen the evacuation of more than 100 camps and the expulsion of planeloads of gypsies, or Roma, in recent weeks - and insisted France is simply applying its laws.

Meanwhile, immigration minister Eric Besson said President Nicolas Sarkozy, holding his first cabinet meeting since returning from summer holiday, has urged his team "not to get sidetracked by useless controversies".

Mr Hortefeux said the criticism was "political blather" and insisted racial prejudice was not behind the decision to expel the gypsies.

He said 117 camps have been dismantled and 630 people sent home, with some 300 more expulsions expected by the end of the month.

Mr Sarkozy has argued that gypsy camps are sources of trafficking, exploitation of children and prostitution, and the crackdown is part of his wider fight against crime.

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