France defends Roma crackdown as EU voices concern

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France defended on Tuesday its deportation of Roma migrants, insisting that it was in line with European Union laws as two French ministers met with top EU officials concerned about the crackdown.

French Immigration Minister Eric Besson and European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche travelled to Brussels to explain controversial measures that have been criticised at home and abroad.

"The actions undertaken by the French government have prompted numerous, unacceptable caricatures and mix-ups," Besson told reporters.

Besson insisted that France was "scrupulously" respecting EU laws after meeting with the 27-nation bloc's top justice official, Viviane Reding, and European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.

He said the talks with the European commissioners had been "frank, deep and constructive."

Reding, who later held talks with Romanian officials, and Malmstroem made no comments after meeting with the French ministers.

Last week, Reding said she was following France's handling of Roma migrants from Bulgaria and Romania "with great attention and some concern," and she ordered her services to analyse the legality of the measures.

France launched a country-wide crackdown on Roma earlier this month after a group allegedly attacked a police station.

The government deported 283 Roma last Thursday, bringing the total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma expelled so far this year to 8,313, up from 9,875 expelled throughout last year.

The crackdown has sparked international criticism, including from a United Nations anti-racism panel, members of the European parliament, the Vatican and human rights group Amnesty International.

Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007 but French authorities are allowed to deport citizens from those countries if they break the law or lack the financial means to stay in France after three months.

Besson praised the freedom of movement law for the EU's 500 million citizens but said it was not an "unconditional" right.

"This freedom cannot be used as an excuse for illegal activities, particularly human trafficking," he said.

© 2010 AFP

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