France dismantles Roma camps in fresh crackdown
French authorities on Thursday dismantled two makeshift Roma camps housing 200 people, provoking claims the Socialist government is pursuing the disputed policies of ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy.
The clearance of the two camps near the northern city of Lille came on the same day that around 240 Roma gypsies were flown from Lyon to Romania in the biggest repatriation of its kind since Francois Hollande succeeded Sarkozy as president in May.
France drew a chorus of criticism in 2010 for rounding up hundreds of Roma gypsies from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria in a crackdown ordered by Sarkozy.
Roma rights groups had hoped for a change of policy under Hollande's Socialists but new Interior Minister Manuel Valls has promised to take a "firm" line on the issue, insisting that "unsanitary" camps will continue to be dismantled.
Two Roma encampments on state land near the northern city of Lille were cleared on Thursday, with around 150 people expelled from one camp and about 50 from another following complaints from residents.
"The tensions with (local residents) had become untenable," said Maryvonne Girard, deputy mayor of the town of Villeneuve d'Ascq, near where one of the camps had been located.
Girard said residents had endured "two-and-a-half years of nuisance," but rights groups blasted the move.
"What's inconceivable for us is that people are thrown out without being told where they can go. We expected better after President Hollande's words," said Roseline Tiset of the Human Rights League.
She said that during the presidential campaign earlier this year, Hollande wrote to Roma rights groups saying that under his government "when an unsanitary camp is dismantled, alternatives will be offered." (AFP)