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Sarkozy's Roma Crackdown Likened to WWII Roundups

Aug 17, 2010 – 3:25 PM
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Dana Kennedy

Dana Kennedy Contributor

NICE, France (Aug. 17) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy, accused of pandering to conservatives by ordering a crackdown on illegal Roma encampments, is now under attack from some in his own party concerned that the initiative is tarnishing France's international image.

A poll conducted for the daily Le Figaro on Aug. 6 found that 79 percent of French favored the crackdown, but resistance appears to be growing as images of the police actions flash across France's television screens.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson went on RTL Radio today to ask people to stop using the term "roundup" -- les rafles in French -- to refer to the current action, because it recalls the treatment of Jews and Roma, or Gypsies, during World War II.
Members of the Roma community react after being forced out of their camp north of Paris
Paul Szajner, AFP / Getty Images
Members of the Roma community were forced out of their camp of Hanul, in Saint Denis, north of Paris on July 6. Critics have likened the crackdown on such encampments to the roundup of Jews during World War II.

Besson said Sarkozy is not out to stigmatize the Roma people, but merely trying to cut down on crime. Police have broken up some 40 encampments and squats in the past two weeks and have vowed to dismantle a total of 300 through October. The crackdown targets not just Roma, but also more numerous so-called "travelers" of French nationality.

Besson's remarks came just two days before France is expected to deport the first of an estimated 700 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria by air on Thursday. The second flight is scheduled to take place Aug. 26, French and Bulgarian news outlets today reported Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux as saying.

Besson's comments came after Jean-Pierre Grand, a deputy in Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), compared Sarkozy's decision to dismantle the illegal Gypsy camps to France's crackdown on Jews during the Vichy administration during World War II.

In his criticism of Sarkozy on Saturday, Grand used the loaded term "roundups."

Grand, an ally of Sarkozy's arch-enemy, former Prime Minister Dominique Villepin, also called the widely broadcast video of Roma camps being broken up "disgraceful." Another UMP deputy, Bernard Debre, took to the pages of Le Monde today to warn against "taking shortcuts" in immigration policy.

"It wouldn't be correct to link everything: integration, religion, terrorism and foreigners coming to France. There are French terrorists, there are French criminals," he wrote. "It's clear that we need a reasonable immigration policy and integration policy."

Francois Goulard, who served in Jacques Chirac's cabinet, called Sarkozy's edict "shocking," Le Parisien newspaper reported Monday, characterizing it as a "smokescreen" meant to advance Sarkozy's own political agenda and win him some badly needed support as he continues to slip in the polls.

Robert Kushen, the executive director of the European Roma Rights Center in New York, told AOL News today that the comments comparing Sarkozy's Roma policies to what happened during World War II are accurate.

"The last time France deported people based on their ethnicity was during World War II, when they sent 75,000 Jews to their death," Kushen said. "Policy that denigrates a group of people because of their ethnic background frequently leads to violence against them and others."

The Socialist opposition has expressed its disapproval of the government policy, but some see its response as muted in the face of popular approval for the measures.
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