Sarkozy slams illegal immigration on Vatican visit

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President Nicolas Sarkozy said the fight against illegal immigrants was a "moral imperative" on Friday after talks with Pope Benedict XVI, while a top cardinal urged France to welcome immigrants.

"Fighting against illegal immigration, which generates so much distress and drama, which deprives the poorest countries of their vital forces, is a moral imperative," Sarkozy said at a meeting with Vatican clergy during his visit.

But senior French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran earlier on Friday said during a prayer service in St Peter's basilica that "France and its leaders" should reflect on what they could do to "welcome the persecuted and immigrants."

A top Vatican official in August joined international criticism of France's crackdown on the Roma minority, saying Paris was flouting European norms.

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

Pope Benedict XVI also said earlier that the scriptures were "an invitation to know how to accept legitimate differences among humans."

France began a clampdown in July against illegal traveller camps and deported more than 1,700 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.

The European Commission has threatened legal action unless Paris abides by EU rules on freedom of movement by October 15.

Sarkozy, whose visit to the Vatican is also being seen as a bid to win over Catholic voters in France, said France and the Church "have a great number of common causes" and are both struggling for the defence of human dignity.

© 2010 AFP

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