France moves to expel gypsies

France has accelerated its move on illegal gypsy camps and started expelling foreign gypsies, after the president deemed some a security threat.

France has intensified a crackdown on illegal gypsy camps and moved to expel foreign gypsies breaking the law, after president Nicolas Sarkozy said some in the community posed security problems. The move followed crisis talks called by Mr Sarkozy yesterday as part of his declared "war on crime" which prompted rights groups to accuse him of stigmatising the Roma, gypsy and traveller minorities. The interior minister Brice Hortefeux said that about 300 illegal "camps or squats" housing gypsies and travellers would be closed in three months and foreign Gypsies breaking the law would be immediately deported.

"Tax inspectors will be sent to inspect the households of the inhabitants of these illicit and illegal camps because a lot of our compatriots are rightly surprised to see the caravans pulled by certain powerful cars," he added. The French government said many in the camps or settlements were involved in "smuggling, exploiting children for begging, prostitution or delinquency". France will also ask Romania and Bulgaria to send about 20 police officers to the greater Paris region, where many gypsies live, and proposes sending its own forces to the two countries to fight trafficking.

Anti-racism groups, however, were outraged, accusing Mr Sarkozy of singling out and smearing a minority for electoral gain. "The Elysee wants to stir fear in order to deploy security measures and a surveillance society," said Dominique Sopo of the pressure group SOS-Racism. Mr Sarkozy stirred controversy by warning ahead of the meeting that some members of the itinerant minorities posed security "problems", in response to an attack on a police station in Saint-Aignan, central France last week.

Masked rioters tried to break down the door of the station, damaged other buildings and burned cars during the attack, sparked after police shot dead a gypsy during a car chase. Mr Sarkozy called the meeting of ministers and police chiefs to review what he dubbed "the situation of travelling people and Roma and the problems that certain members of these communities pose to public order and safety".

Gypsy groups and political opponents said Mr Sarkozy's approach stigmatises minority communities and did not distinguish between ethnic Roma and gypsies, and the separate community of French "travellers". "If Nicolas Sarkozy must repeat his declaration of war, the Collective of gypsy Associations will be prompted to take legal action for incitement to racial hatred," the rights association UFAT said in a statement.

The group said it wanted to meet Mr Sarkozy to discuss a solution for the 400,000 gypsies and travelling people in France. * AFP