Leading article: France's cynical populism

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The Independent Online

The dishonourable attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy to harrass France's Roma population has been a failure. One year on, the 10,000 who have been deported to their "home states" of Romania and Bulgaria have simply returned. They are living in even worse conditions. The sad truth is that M. Sarkozy probably always knew that would happen. But he wanted to borrow the rhetoric of the far-right National Front in an attempt to boost his flaccid poll ratings.

Despite an international outcry at the harassment of Europe's largest ethnic minority, nearly 500 Roma settlements have been demolished. Adults have lost their jobs, children's schooling has been disrupted, access to water and electricity has been removed, and vaccinations programmes thrown into disarray. There has been a disgraceful rise in pressure and intimidation from the police and firebomb attacks on gypsy sites.

Still, M. Sarkozy has had the headlines he required. The trouble is that the National Front has responded to the news of the Roma return with calls for even tougher treatment. The French President must not give in again to such cynical populism.