France Protests Against Security Crackdown

France protests against security crackdown

By Sophie Lautier (AFP)
Sep 4, 2010

PARIS—-Tens of thousands protested in cities across France Saturday against a government law and order crackdown that has targeted Roma gypsies, as smaller demonstrations took place in European capitals.

In Paris, leaders of leftist opposition parties, rights groups and trade unionists marched alongside Roma migrants whose camp was bulldozed by the authorities in August.

“For me, this is a day of fighting against racism and xenophobia,” the socialist mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoe told AFP.

Police said the demonstration gathered 12,000 people; organisers put the figure at 50,000.

Thousands more marched in Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and other cities in rallies joined by human rights groups and trade unions.

Earlier a group of celebrities from the arts world, including actress-singer Jane Birkin, staged a protest in support of undocumented migrants outside the ministry of immigration.

France's Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux however dismissed the protests, insisting the turnout was a disappointment for the organisers.

“Even though they were organised by about 60 associations, collectives, unions and political parties, today's so-called 'defence of human rights' demonstrations only managed to bring out, in total, across the whole of the territory, a few tens of thousands of people,” he said.

“It is, without any doubt, a disappointment for the organisers,” he continued.

“I will continue my determined action to push back all forms of crime, defend victims' rights and this without ever stigmatising any community whatsoever,” he added.

An interior ministry estimate put the number of demonstrators across France at just over 77,000; organisers of the rallies said 100,000 had turned out.

The hardline national security secretary of President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, Eric Ciotti, had already slammed the demonstrations as “guilty complicity with those who flout the laws of the republic.”

Sarkozy's government embarked on a major law and order clampdown in July, which included the highly-publicised, and much criticised expulsion of nearly 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, more than 1,000 people took part in a two-hour march calling for an end to “xenophobic” policies.

“It is a right and a duty for us to take part in this demonstration, because if we let them crush us, you wonder where this will lead,” Antoinou Jimenez, a representative of a group of travellers in the area, told AFP.

A similar number gathered in Toulouse against “state racism”.

Around 20 people rallied outside the French embassy in London, holding placards with a picture of Sarkozy and the words: “Behind the smile, the guilt”.

In Brussels, around 100 people including Roma protested outside the French embassy with signs mocking the compensation of 300 euros (385 dollars) awarded to Roma who volunteer to be sent back home.

Protesters in Madrid and Barcelona read out a letter to be delivered to the French ambassador calling for France to respect human rights.

And several hundred people protested in front of the French embassy in Rome, carrying banners saying “No to Racism!”.

The demonstrations came as the French senate prepared to debate a tough security bill on Tuesday.

The proposed law, already adopted by the lower house, would punish the killers of police more severely, increase minimum sentences for violent re-offenders and introduce electronic tagging for foreign criminals facing deportation.

There are an estimated 15,000 Roma living in the country. Under European Union freedom of movement laws, they are entitled to stay for three months without a permanent residence or job, before facing expulsion.

More than 8,000 Roma have been deported from France since the beginning of the year, with 9,875 expelled throughout last year. Many return within months.

The French government maintains that its policies are strictly within the law, but its tough rhetoric has drawn criticism from the Vatican, reservations from the UN anti-racism panel and questions from Brussels.