Mayors propose pan-European alliance to help Roma

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Local and regional officials from across Europe on Thursdayannounced plans to form an alliance to aid the continent's Roma communities.

At a mayors' summit that opened in Strasbourg on Wednesday, around 50 elected officials resolved to develop more cohesive strategies to improve the standing of the continent's 10 to 12 million Roma, also known as gypsies.

"We are here today, because we are alarmed about the worsening situation of Roma in Europe at the grassroots level," European Congress President Keith Whitmore said.

"What we need is a genuine local and regional framework for cooperation at European level, a truly European alliance of cities and regions for Roma inclusion to coordinate these activities, exchange information and good practices."

The Roma issue is so difficult to solve because Roma are resented in many parts of Europe and proposed solutions are often thwarted by local political calculations, said Lorenzo Guerini, mayor of Lodi, Italy.

"The sensitivity of the local population on the subject, and the political prejudice against the Roma make municipal action difficult on this subject, especially in an electoral period," Guerini, who heads a town of 45,000, told AFP.

Earlier this month, extreme-right activists in the Czech Republic, some wearing clothes marked with Nazi symbols, staged a racially-charged demonstrations in the northwest of the country against what they termed a Roma invasion.

A Greek official said the issue is especially hard to address now, as Greece, and other countries, face biting public sector spending cuts amid the continent's debt crisis.

"In Greece, many say that now is not the time to support the Roma," Despoina Siggelaki, deputy mayor of Heraklion in Crete.

The aim of the alliance tabled Thursday, is to create "a pan-European network" to assist a community burdened by disproportionately-high unemployment, illiteracy and poverty rates, a council statement said.

In an October 2010 declaration, the Strasbourg-based council resolved that each European nation was responsible to ensure that its Roma communities had equal access to education, employment, health care and housing.

© 2011 AFP

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