Rights chief stands by criticism of anti-Roma rhetoric

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A European rights chief who angered Paris by comparing anti-Roma rhetoric with the Nazis said Thursday the French government had failed to differentiate between law-abiding migrants and criminals.

"During the ongoing government campaign in France against crime, Roma from other EU countries have been targeted as a threat against public security," Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, said in a statement.

"French government spokespersons have failed to make a clear distinction between the whole group of Roma immigrants and the few who have committed crimes," he said.

"The French government has reacted against my statements on anti-Roma rhetoric. This I welcome and hope will encourage a serious discussion.

"Certainly, I stand by my position as I have stated. Politicians should be very careful about language which can promote further prejudices against the Roma communities," he said.

Hammarberg triggered an angry reaction from France on Wednesday after a posting on micro-blogging site Twitter that said: "The current political rhetoric against the Roma is similar to the words used by the Nazis and fascist regimes. Politicians must show more responsibility."

France's Europe Minister Pierre Lellouche said he was "surprised and shocked" by the comments.

Foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero on Thursday said France's representatives at the Council of Europe formally complained to Hammarberg that his comments on Twitter were "totally unacceptable".

"Hammarberg said his comments were not aimed at the French government. We are taking note and reiterate that the measures taken by the French government conform with French, European and international rights," the spokesman said.

France has deported almost 1,000 Roma migrants to Bulgaria and Romania since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government launched a high-profile security crackdown in July.

The European Parliament demanded France "immediately suspend" its expulsions of the Roma, in a resolution Thursday that expressed "deep concern at measures taken by France and other member states targeting Roma and travellers."

Immigration Minister Eric Besson, in Bucharest for talks with Romanian authorities on the issue, said there was "no question" of Paris complying.


© 2010 AFP

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