Thousands protest against French Roma deportations
Tens of thousands of people across Europe have protested at expulsions of thousands Romany Gypsies from France, as the French government prepares to hold an international conference about Roma migrants which is widely perceived as an "anti-Roma" summit.
Protesters blew whistles and beat drums in Paris, the largest demonstration among those in at least 135 cities and towns across Europe from London to Belgrade.
Protestors gather outside the French Embassy in Knightsbridge, London
The protestors have accused French President Nicolas Sarkozy of stigmatising the Romany minority groups to gain popularity. They also say he is breaking French traditions of welcoming the oppressed, in a country that is one of the world's leading providers of political asylum.
The protests mark the first show of public discontent since the conservative Mr Sarkozy, a former hardline interior minister, announced new measures to fight crime in late July.
He said Gypsy camps would be "systematically evacuated" and his interior minister and other officials said last week that about 1,000 Roma had been given small stipends and flown home since then. Other sources estimate that anywhere between 8,000 and 12,000 Roma have been sent back to Romania and Bulgaria.
Mr Sarkozy has used his image as a tough, law-and-order politician to win political support. He has linked Romanies to crime, saying their camps are sources of prostitution and child exploitation. The latest moves by Mr Sarkozy came after violence between police and youths in a suburban Grenoble housing project and other clashes in a travelling community in the Loire Valley after a young Manush Gypsy man was shot dead by police.
"Mr Sarkozy is there to stand for the constitution, not to trample it," said Jean-Pierre Dubois, president of France's Human Rights League. "So we consider this situation extremely dangerous, that's why we are here."
Paris police said about 12,000 people took part in the protest in the French capital but organisers estimated 50,000 took part. In London, a protest organised by the Irish Travellers Movement in Britain was held outside the French Embassy in Knightsbridge and was attended by many supporters of United Against Fascism.
Unite Against Fascism joint secretary Weyman Bennett said:
"We are gravely worried at the increasing level of racism towards Roma people. In recent years, they have been the target of violence by fascist organisations in many parts of Europe. Around half a million Roma were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust – we have to say ‘Never Again!’."
"Against this background, we are deeply concerned by the actions of the French government. We urge the French government to cease immediately its targeting of Roma people and to halt the expulsions. And we call on everyone to prevent a repeat of such moves elsewhere in Europe."