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EU Commission lambasts France over Roma expulsions

France was dealt a stinging blow Tuesday by the European Commission, which labeled the deportation of hundreds of ethnic Roma from the country in recent weeks as a "disgrace."

Roma children near Lyon

Hundreds of Roma families were sent back to Romania

The European Commission has strongly criticized the French government for its decision to deport hundreds of Roma migrants in recent weeks.

Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was appalled by the expulsions and described the policy as a "disgrace."

"It is shocking that a part of the (French) government comes here and says something and another part of the government does the opposite," she said.

"My patience is wearing thin: enough is enough!" she added, thumping the podium in the European Commission's press room.

French officials have systematically dismantled over 100 illegal camps and asked around 1,000 Roma people to return to Romania. Those who did not take up the government offer were to be deported.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

Sarkozy has come under much pressure from outside France

Reding said she thought the EU should initiate legal proceedings against France over the deportations.

The initial infringement proceedings could eventually lead to the case being heard before the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which has the power to impose fines.

Support in Germany

The commissioner was joined in her attack by the leaders of the Roma and Sinti community in Germany, who criticized French President Nicolas Sarkozy over the deportation policies, which they said encouraged far-right attitudes.

Sarkozy's policies were "weakening the rule of law and simultaneously making far-right attitudes acceptable in society," warned the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma from its office in the southern city of Heidelberg.

The Council statement said moves against Roma in France risked triggering right-wing violence in the country.

A Romanian gypsy youth with his belongings is escorted by French police officers to an airport check in desk at Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, near Paris

Many Roma were escorted by police to French airports

Sarkozy had "deliberately and calculatedly" put the Roma under a stigma in a bid to woo rightist French voters, the council added.

French shock

A French government spokesman said the government in Paris was "astonished" by the harsh remarks in the wake of the new policies.

"We heard with astonishment Mrs Viviane Reding's statements," Bernard Valero told journalists on Tuesday. "We do not believe that these kinds of statements will improve the fate and situation of the Roma, who are at the heart of our preoccupations.

"This is not the time for controversy, nor for statements of this kind," Valero said. "This is the time to work in favor of the Roma population."

Author: Darren Mara (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Susan Houlton

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