French minister to meet cardinal over Roma crackdown

23rd August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The French interior minister said Monday he is willing to meet the senior Catholic cardinal in France to discuss the Vatican's criticism of his government's crackdown on Roma and Gypsy communities.

"I am totally willing to meet ... Cardinal Vingt-Trois," Brice Hortefeux told Europe 1 radio station.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, who is the Archbishop of Paris, later said he would meet the minister, but no date has yet been set.

Hortefeux's comment came after Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday asked French pilgrims in Italy to welcome people of all origins, just days after France repatriated more than 200 Roma and Gypsies.

The Vatican on Friday accused Paris of flouting European law, as it joined the chorus of criticism of France's crackdown.

"One cannot generalise and take an entire group of people and kick them out," said Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Vatican's Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People commission.

The European Union's executive arm has said France must abide by the bloc's freedom of movement rules when it expels Roma living illegally in the country.

The French foreign ministry has insisted that its action against the Roma is in line with European rules. Those who have left so far have volunteered for deportation after being offered small cash grants.

The expulsions follow a high-profile bid by President Nicolas Sarkozy to recapture his image with voters as strong on law and order.

Police squads have carried out a series of raids across the country, targeting unauthorised camps of both Roma from Eastern Europe and of French-born Gypsies and travellers.

© 2010 AFP

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