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EU lawmakers demand end to gypsy fingerprinting

European lawmakers demanded Thursday that Italy stop fingerprinting Roma gypsies, branding the action a direct act of discrimination, which Italian ministers swiftly rejected.

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In a resolution adopted by 336 votes to 220 with 77 abstentions, the members of the European Parliament urged Italy to call a halt to the practice until the European Commission could investigate.

The resolution urged the Italian authorities "to refrain from collecting fingerprints from Roma, including minors, as this would clearly constitute an act of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin."

It also condemned "utterly and without equivocation all forms of racism and discrimination faced by the Roma and others regarded as 'gypsies'."

The deputies called "on the commission to thoroughly evaluate the legislative and executive measures adopted by the Italian government in order to check their compatability with the EU treaties and with EU law."

According to statistics from the Sant'Egidio lay religious group, between 130,000 and 150,000 Roma live in Italy, where they tend to be blamed for crime and insecurity.

Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni announced on June 26 that he planned to send police into all "nomad camps" around the country -- many of them no-go areas on the outskirts of major cities.

He said the police would collect the fingerprints of everyone there, whether they be adult or children.

The operation has begun in Naples and Milan and was to start in Rome on Monday, although Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno has said children would not be fingerprinted.

Maroni, a member of the right-wing anti-immigrant Northern League in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, hit back at the Strasbourg resolution on Thursday.

He told a news conference, "With this measure we want to give dignity back to 'shadow children' who suffer from trafficking in human beings and organs."

Carrying out a census of the Roma was a way to protect children against being forced into begging, and instead getting them into school, he said, adding, "The Italian government will go all the way."

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini called the vote "political, based on prejudices," and questioned why Italy had not been asked to present its case before the European Parliament ahead of the vote.

European Affairs Minister Andrea Rochi told the news conference, "Today's resolution by the European Parliament is one of the worst aspects of the EU institutions. We reject with vigour and indignation the accusations of racism."

On Monday, EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot demanded an explanation from Maroni in "full and frank" talks during an informal EU meeting in Cannes .

"It's important for me that there is an extremely precise and clear investigation," Barrot said.

"My job is to ensure that fundamental rights are respected in Europe. I will do that with a clear conscience and objectively."

"There can be identification measures that are necessary," Barrot said. "But there are dangers in such steps and we are there to evaluate them and, if necessary, to contain them."

The large number of Roma in Italy became an election issue in Berlusconi's ultimately successful campaign to return to the Italian prime ministership earlier this year.

In May several Roma camps were torched, sparking a diplomatic incident between Rome and Bucharest.

Many Roma have Italian citizenship, while those of Romanian nationality have freedom of movement within the rest of the European Union.
 

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