Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Protest over French gypsy crackdown

Protesters march over French President Nicolas Sarkozy's security policies in Paris

Thousands of people all over France have marched to protest at expulsions of gypsies and other security measures adopted by President Nicolas Sarkozy's government.

Protesters blew whistles and beat drums in Paris, the largest demonstration among those in at least 135 cities and towns and elsewhere in Europe on Saturday.

Human rights and anti-racism groups, unions and left-wing political parties were taking part in the protests.

They accuse Mr Sarkozy of stigmatising minority groups and seeking political gain with the security crackdown. They also say he is breaking French traditions of welcoming the oppressed, in a country that is one of the world's leading providers of political asylum.

The protests mark the first show of public discontent since the conservative Mr Sarkozy, a former hardline interior minister, announced new measures to fight crime in late July.

He said gypsy camps would be "systematically evacuated" and his interior minister and other officials said last week that about 1,000 Roma had been given small stipends and flown home since then.

For years Mr Sarkozy has used his image as a tough, law-and-order politician to win political support. He has linked Roma to crime, saying their camps are sources of prostitution and child exploitation. The latest moves by Mr Sarkozy came after violence between police and youths in a suburban Grenoble housing project and other clashes in a travelling community in the Loire Valley.

Mr Sarkozy also said naturalised citizens who threatened the lives of police officers should lose their citizenship - a view slammed by critics as anti-constitutional and evocative of nationalist measures during France's collaborationist past in the Vichy regime during Second World War.

"Mr Sarkozy is there to stand for the constitution, not to trample it," said Jean-Pierre Dubois, president of France's Human Rights League. "So we consider this situation extremely dangerous, that's why we are here."

Paris police said about 12,000 people took part in the protest in the capital and that no violence took place. Organisers estimated 50,000 took part.

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