The mayor of a Paris suburb on Sunday denied having refused to allow the burial of a Roma baby in the municipal cemetery, saying local staff misunderstood his orders and that the media had taken his comments out of context.
Christian Leclerc, the conservative mayor of Champlan, about 23 kilometres south of Paris, weathered a storm of criticism after French daily Le Parisien on Saturday ran an article saying he had rejected the burial of the ten-week-old infant on the grounds that the cemetery had "few available plots".
"Priority is given to those who pay their local taxes," Leclerc was quoted as saying in the article.
On Sunday, however, the mayor told AFP that “at no moment did I oppose this burial,” adding that his conversation with the newspaper journalist had been taken out of context and, “blown out of proportion".
"There was a choice between Corbeil and Champlan. I agreed on Wednesday morning to either scenario. I have a text message proving this," he said, but noted the response might not have been clear enough and therefore confusing to local staff.
Leclerc’s protestations failed to prevent him incurring the wrath of France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who took to Twitter on Sunday to denounce the “refusal to bury a child because of its origin” as an “insult to its memory, an insult to French values”.
Laurence Rossignol, a junior government minister for the family, also said on Twitter that the refusal was "an inhumane humiliation" for the family, adding the hashtag #honte or "shame".
And France's defender of human rights, Jacques Toubon, said he was "shocked, stunned by the news".
The baby, identified only as Maria Francesca, was born on October 14 and died in the early hours of December 26.
"The mother tried to breastfeed her at 5.00 am and the little girl was cold. She was dead," said Marie-Helene Brelaud, a member of the ASEFRR association, which supports Roma families in the region.
Maria Francesca was rushed to hospital in nearby Corbeil-Essonnes, where she was pronounced dead from sudden infant death syndrome.
To be buried in neighbouring town
The family asked a burial firm in Corbeil-Essonnes to request permission from the authorities to lay the infant to rest but, according to the firm's manager Julien Guenzi, the mayor refused "without explanation".
"He doesn't have to justify himself, but responses like that are very rare," Guenzi told AFP.
The mayor of Wissous, a few kilometres away, has since offered to host the burial, saying it was "a question of humanity".
"The pain of a mother who carried a child for nine months, and lost her after two and a half months must not be worsened," mayor Richard Trinquier said.
ASEFRR said it would cover the funeral costs. The family has already paid for a coffin.
The child's parents are Romanian natives in their mid-30s who have lived in France for at least eight years, according to supporters.
They have two boys, aged five and nine, who are attending school in Champlan.
The family lives on the outskirts of Champlan in a makeshift settlement without electricity or running water, near a factory and very close to Paris's Orly Airport.
Most of France's roughly 20,000 Roma have little or no access to basic amenities.
Successive governments have drawn fire for demolishing numerous camps and evicting families with children, although some in France have cheered the tough approach.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2015-01-04