French police round up Roma ahead of vote
French police on Tuesday rounded up some 200 members of the Roma minority from a camp in Marseille in the south, sparking the ire of rights groups six months ahead of presidential elections.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to make security a central theme of his as-yet unannounced re-election campaign, and last year courted international outrage by targetting foreign-born Roma for expulsion.
Around 150 police took part in the round-up of a group that included children and babies. There was no violence, but the local head of the Human Rights League (LDH), Bernard Eynaud, criticised the raid as "aggressive".
"There are two Roma camps left in Marseille. This one, which is old, houses children at school. Once more, they will be split up and the children will not be able to go to school today," Eynaud said.
He accused the town hall of reneging on an August offer for a negotiated solution, declaring: "Today the only answer they have is the police."
The families were living in caravans and corrugated iron and wooden huts next to a railway line. Many of those rounded up will be expelled to Romania or Bulgaria if they cannot show how they can support themselves.
Sarkozy's UMP party has been accused of trying to outdo the far right-wing, anti-immigrant National Front party ahead of next year's presidential election.
France drew a chorus of criticism last year for rounding up hundreds of Roma from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria.
The European Union's justice chief, Viviane Reding, angered Sarkozy at the time by comparing the rounding up to World War II-era deportations.
Paris insisted there was nothing racist in the moves against the Roma, saying they were rounded up simply because they had overstayed the period they were allowed in France without any visible means of financial support.
On September 12, Sarkozy's hardline interior minister Claude Gueant launched an offensive against what he called "Roma delinquency", saying that 10 percent of people brought before Parisian justice were Roma.
"We have to accelerate the return (of alleged Roma delinquents) to their country of origin," Gueant said.
© 2011 AFP