PARIS – Thousands of people marched in Paris and around France on Saturday to protest expulsions of Gypsies and other new security measures adopted by President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government.
Protesters blew whistles and beat drums in the capital, the largest demonstration among those in at least 135 cities and towns across France and elsewhere in Europe. Human rights and anti-racism groups, labor unions and leftist political parties were taking part in the protests.
They accuse Sarkozy of stigmatizing minority groups like Gypsies and seeking political gain with a security crackdown. They also say he is violating 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 Sarkozy, a former hard-line interior minister, announced new measures to fight crime in late July.
Sarkozy said Gypsy camps would be “systematically evacuated.” His interior minister and other officials said last week that about 1,000 Roma have been given small stipends and flown home since then.
For years, Sarkozy has used his image as a tough, law-and-order politician to win political support. Sarkozy has linked Roma to crime, saying their camps are sources of prostitution and child exploitation. The latest moves by Sarkozy came after violence between police and youth in a suburban Grenoble housing project and other clashes in a traveling community in the Loire Valley.
Sarkozy also said naturalized citizens who threaten the lives of police officers should lose their citizenship – and his leftist critics slammed that proposal as anti-constitutional and evocative of nationalist measures during France’s collaborationist past in the Vichy regime during World War II.
Paris police said some 12,000 people took part in the protest in the capital and that no violence took place. Organizers estimated that 50,000 people took part in the capital – half of the total nationwide.