Europe

Romanian leader 'asked Sarkozy to stop deporting Roma'

Romanian Roma who say they recently returned from France to Calvini, 110km (68 miles) north of Bucharest, 21 September
Image caption Romanian Roma have been returning from France after accepting financial incentives

Romania's president has personally asked his French counterpart to "try and stop" the process of expelling illegal Roma (Gypsy) settlers.

Traian Basescu said he had asked Nicolas Sarkozy during a "friendly conversation" at an EU summit last week but had received no clear answer.

France has fiercely defended its expulsion of at least 1,200 foreign Roma since July.

But it has come under heavy criticism from EU partners.

Romania has the largest Roma population in the EU, followed by Bulgaria.

France has been dismantling illegal camps set up by foreign Roma who break the country's residency and employment rules, and flying them to their home countries.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero voiced support for the French government on Wednesday in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

"They haven't been deported because of their ethnic origin," he said.

"The measures were adopted within the rule of law. Integration principles must work, but also public order must be respected in suburban settlements lacking sanitary or security conditions."

'Right to move freely'

Image caption The two presidents spoke at a summit in Brussels on Thursday

There was no immediate comment from the French government on President Basescu's remarks.

The Romanian leader told journalists in the Romanian capital Bucharest that Mr Sarkozy had promised to discuss the issue when the two met again in Paris, probably in the next few weeks.

He denied any tensions with Mr Sarkozy, saying: "It was an amicable discussion."

Romania's leader estimated that there were about 1.5 million Roma in his country, "one million of whom are fully integrated, while half a million are not".

"Romania will always defend the Roma's right to move freely in Europe," he said.

"They are European citizens and as long as there is no evidence they broke the law, they should enjoy the same rights of any European citizen."

When Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007, France and nine other EU states imposed special rules on work and residency which do not expire until January 2014.

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