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Week of unrest kicks off with Roma crackdown protest

Video by Georja Calvin-Smith

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-09-14

At least 10,000 protesters marched through the streets of Paris Saturday to rally against the government's crackdown on immigrants and the recent expulsion of hundreds of Roma. Police are bracing for more protests in the coming days.

French trade unions protested Saturday against a clampdown on immigrants, launching a week of action against tightening security and pension reforms on which President Nicolas Sarkozy has staked his political reputation.

Demonstrators opposed to new measures including repatriation of Roma to eastern Europe waved French flags and placards and chanted slogans including "let's stop repression" and "no to Sarkozy's inhumane policies".

"It's rare that I demonstrate like this," said protestor Alexis Peskine, "but [Sarkozy] went too far."

Jane Birkin joins other artists in denouncing Roma expulsions
A column of thousands headed through the streets in the bright September sunshine towards Paris's city hall, led by Roma. Thousands more rallied in Marseilles, Lyons, Bordeaux and over a hundred other cities.

"This weekend's demonstrations will be a first indicator of the country's mood during this turbulent return to work for politicians," the left-leaning Liberation newspaper said in an editorial.

Necessary measures or cynical politicking?

Critics see the expulsions as part of a drive by Sarkozy to revive his popularity before 2012 elections and divert attention from painful pension reforms and spending cuts.

Opposition political parties were also prominent at Saturday's demonstrations.  Laurianne Deniaud, president of the Young Socialists, said the turnout at the rallies was impressive.  "The stigmatisation of the Roma community was the starting point but it's grown," she said. "It's great to see so many people who live in France unite and mobilise regardless of their nationality," Deniaud added.

Saturday's protests also targeted the revocation of the French nationality for immigrants found guilty of attacking police officers.

Sarkozy's moves have attracted criticism from outside France too.

The President, who says the security measures are needed to combat crime, faces a bigger test on Tuesday when workers hold a nationwide strike and protests over the proposed pension reforms which he says are essential to cut the country's spiralling budgetary deficit.

Sarkozy said on Friday he was determined to stand by the reforms, which among other things will see the retirement age raised from 60 to 62.

How Sarkozy's 'summer crackdown' came to this
Widespread disruption Tuesday

Unions say everything from schools and public transport to telecommunications will be disrupted. The National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, is set to begin debating the pension reforms on Tuesday.

Several unions, including the state railway’s (SNCF) body, are calling for a 24-hour shutdown from 8pm (1800 GMT) on September 6 over the pension reform plans.

Air France said Friday that the strike would affect its operations.

It said it expected to operate all long-haul flights, 90 percent of its short- and medium-haul flights from Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport and half of its short- and medium-haul flights from the city's Orly airport.

Scandal and deficit

Unions said on Friday that Labour Minister Eric Woerth, who has been embroiled in an influence-peddling scandal linked to France's richest woman Liliane Bettencourt, was no longer fit to defend the reforms.

Sarkozy has repeatedly stated his support of Woerth.

Woerth has been dogged for months by revelations from a family feud surrounding the fortune of Bettencourt, regarding allegations of illegal funding of Sarkozy's conservative UMP party and the giving of favours.

The government unveiled plans in June to overhaul the pay-as-you-go pensions system and clean up state finances, warning that without major changes the system would run up annual deficits of 50 billion euros by 2020.

"I will not be the president of the Republic who leaves without having balanced the pension system," he told factory workers on Friday. "I am extremely determined."

 

Date created : 2010-09-04

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