French police remove 5-year-old from school cafeteria
French police came under fire on Thursday for having sent an officer to remove a five-year-old girl from her school cafeteria because her parents had failed to pay for her lunches.
Officials at the school in the village of Ustaritz in the southwestern Basque country said distraught friends of the girl, named Lea, believed she was being taken to prison when the police intervened during lunch.
"You do not take children hostage in this manner," said the principal of the Saint Vincent school, Laurent Aguergaray.
Education Minister Vincent Peillon also denounced the move as "an act of violence".
Officials of the local municipality, which runs the cafeteria, ordered the police to intervene after her parents fell more than a year behind in paying for her to eat in the cafeteria and owed 170 euros ($225).
Local mayor Dominique Lesbats said he regretted how the case had been handled but insisted that Lea's parents, who are separated, had both been repeatedly asked to make payments.
A police union spokesman defended the officer involved, saying she had been directly ordered to intervene by the mayor and risked losing her job if she refused.
© 2013 AFP