A Roma community has buried a dead baby in southern Paris, after the mayor of the infant's home town allegedly refused to hold the burial there, sparking an outcry. French authorities have launched an investigation.
The small white coffin was buried at a graveyard in the southern Parisian suburb of Wissous on Monday, after a religious ceremony which was attended by more than 100 people from the local Roma community.
The 10-week-old baby, identified only as Maria Francesca, died in the early hours of December 26 of sudden infant death syndrome.
Questions had been raised over where the infant should be buried after her family was allegedly refused permission by the mayor of Champlan, 23 kilometers (14 miles) south of Paris.
The mayor, Christian Leclerc, reportedly told Le Parisien newspaper that the municipal cemetery had "few available plots," that space was expensive and that priority was given to "those who pay their local taxes."
The mayor of nearby Wissous, Richard Trinquier, then offered a burial site to the family - who are originally from Romania - saying it was "a question of humanity."
Roma race row
The incident sparked a huge public backlash. Prime minister Manuel Valls took to Twitter to say: "Refusing a child a burial because of its roots is an insult to its memory, an insult to France."
Later, on Sunday, Leclerc denied ever refusing a burial plot, saying there had been a misunderstanding. He told news agency AFP he was "really sorry" for the controversy and that "at no stage was I opposed to the burial."
"I very much want that the burial should take place in Champlan, the town where (the family) lives."
The family, however, refused the offer.
Authorities launch probe
French human rights ombudsman Jacques Toubon on Sunday said he would investigate the incident, which he says left him "shocked and stunned."
The family's case has highlighted the strained relationship between France and the estimated 20,000 Roma who live there.
The child's parents came to Paris from eastern Europe eight years ago, and currently live on the outskirts of Champlan in a makeshift camp without basic amenities such as running water.
Their situation is typical for many of France's Roma, sometimes referred to as Gypsies, who often face violence and discrimination.
The European Union believes there are currently 10 to 12 million Roma throughout Europe, making them the largest minority on the continent.
nm/bw (AP, AFP, dpa)