Roma groups threaten to take France to EU court over forced deportations
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Roma groups threatened Saturday to take France to the European Court of Justice for the forced deportation of hundreds of Roma and called on European leaders "to put the French president in his place" following EU criticism of the expulsions.
AFP - Roma groups protested at France's expulsion policy and threatened to take Paris to the European court Saturday, as another top EU official took aim at President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In Bulgaria, a dozen Roma organisations delivered a joint letter, addressed to Sarkozy, to the French embassy in Sofia.
"The people you are throwing out have not committed any crime: if that was the case, they would have been arrested and charged," they wrote.
Some 150 Roma chanted "Europe is with us" and carried banners saying, "Sarkozy is legalising racism," "Poor doesn't mean criminal, No to deportation" and "Liberty, equality, fraternity", referring to the French national motto.
On Thursday, Sarkozy vowed to continue dismantling illegal Gypsy and traveller camps in France despite a barrage of criticism and reported clashes with European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso at a heated EU summit in Brussels.
In Spain Saturday the local wing of Union Romani, an international Prague-based Roma rights organisation, vowed to take France to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg.
"We express our sorrow and our deception because European leaders at the summit did not have the necessary courage to put the French president in his place," the group said in a statement.
It condemned the French interior ministry's August 5 leaked memo -- which revealed that Roma were being targeted for expulsion -- as "a racist, anti-constitutional, anti-European, inhuman measure with clear Nazi connotations."
The group said the ECJ's 27 judges "will decide a verdict which, we do not doubt, will make an example of and will condemn the French government."
The summit came two days after the EU's top justice official Viviane Reding, angered by the leaked memo which apppeared to contradict Paris's assurances, called the expulsions a "disgrace" and threatened legal action.
"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said, in turn arousing Sarkozy's ire.
EU Social Affairs Commissioner Laszlo Andor hit out at the French leader again in an interview to be published Monday.
"People are trying here cheaply and obviously to boost their popularity at the expense of a particularly vulnerable group," Andor told the Austrian weekly Profil.
However he conceded Sarkozy's case that EU members in general had done too little for the minority group, and said the bloc will hold a conference in the Romanian capital Bucharest next month to discuss aid initiatives for Roma.
The meeting aims to address the EU's existing "comprehensive support programme" for Roma and gypsies and encourage member states like Romania and Bulgaria to benefit from these subsidies, he said.
Meanwhile, a French opinion poll found 71 percent of respondents believed that France's international image had been tarnished after the dismantling of Roma gypsy camps and expulsions to Romania and Bulgaria, on top of the French football team's exit from the World Cup in disgrace.