Sarkozy steps up Roma expulsions

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The Independent Online

France repatriated hundreds more Roma yesterday as an opinion poll showed President Nicolas Sarkozy's crackdown on crime and immigration enjoyed solid public support despite criticism from the Church and rights groups.

Under mounting pressure from Paris, Romanian representatives met French ministers and promised to do more for their large Roma population, many of whom left Romania in search of a better life in wealthier western Europe.

Police put 300 Roma on planes departing from Paris and Lyon, in the latest wave of what Mr Sarkozy's government calls a voluntary repatriation scheme. The flights brought the number of Roma expelled from France this year to over 8,000.

French police also dismantled a campsite in Lille, one of hundreds of makeshift Roma staging posts being closed and in some cases bulldozed away on the orders of Mr Sarkozy, whose law-and-order rhetoric helped sweep him to power in 2007.

Rights groups, left-wing political opponents and even some politicians from his own conservative camp have criticised the crackdown.

On Thursday, the Archbishop of Paris, André Vingt-Trois, added his voice to the chorus, saying that by targeting Roma people in particular the clampdown had created an "unhealthy climate". "I do not condemn the law... but the application of the law is not always morally right", he told Europe 1 Radio.