EU says France must abide by rules in Roma expulsions

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

The European Commission is following the situation "very attentively," a spokesman said, one day before France was to begin sending hundreds of Roma back home to EU member states Romania and Bulgaria.

France "must respect the rules regarding freedom of movement and freedom of residency" for EU citizens, said the spokesman, Matthew Newman, who added that EU countries are free to expel people under certain conditions.

France will begin expelling on Thursday around 700 Roma rounded up as part of a summer clampdown on members of the minority living illegally in the country, French officials said.

Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said on Tuesday that they would be all be taken back to their home countries before the end of the month.

He said that so far police had dismantled 51 illegal Roma camps and that three flights would take the Roma to Romania and Bulgaria on Thursday, next week and in September.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has in recent weeks launched a major and controversial crackdown on France's Roma, Gypsy and traveller minorities, closing unauthorised camps and expelling foreign-born Roma from the country.

Last month, following a clash between Gypsies and police, Sarkozy announced a raft of new stringent security measures, including plans to dismantle 300 unauthorised campsites within three months.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007. Their citizens can enter France freely and stay for three months without having to justify their stay. After three months, they have to obtain a job, study or show adequate resources.

There are estimated to be 15,000 Gypsies and Roma of eastern European origin in France. Some live in authorised encampments, and others have moved into squatter camps or abandoned buildings.

© 2010 AFP

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