French police clear Roma camp in centre of Roubaix

Watch footage of the police operation in Roubaix

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Police in the northern French town of Roubaix have dismantled a Roma (Gypsy) camp, days after the interior minister said most Roma should be expelled.

Officers moved in around 07:00 (05:00 GMT) to remove caravans parked in the sprawling camp as Roma families hastily packed up their belongings.

Many people had already left the camp, where 200 people were living, during the night, French media report.

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Manuel Valls drew criticism for his stance.

After the Socialist minister said few Roma could ever integrate into French society and "the majority" should be sent "back to the borders", human rights campaigners, the European Commission and one of his cabinet colleagues voiced indignation.

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Amnesty International said more than 10,000 Roma had been evicted from temporary camps in the first half of the year and Mr Valls's remarks were likely to "perpetuate stereotypes and encourage animosity".

Some 20,000 Roma have settled in France, coming mainly from Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia.

'Major inconvenience'

The police operation in Roubaix, on the Belgian border near the city of Lille, took place peacefully, according to French news website Nordeclair, which carried video of the clearance.

The mayor of Roubaix, Pierre Dubois, said the town had asked police to clear the camp for reasons of "security, hygiene and major inconvenience to local residents".

Roubaix was already providing accommodation for 150 Roma at two sites, he added, asking for those evicted to be re-housed elsewhere.

But the eviction was criticised by politician Majdouline Sbai, who is deputy head of the Nord/Pas-de-Calais regional council.

She said that many children from the camp had been enrolled in local schools and that the eviction had been carried out without any substantial offer of new accommodation.

The treatment of Roma people - who face widespread discrimination in Europe - is a political hot potato in France.

Mr Valls has encouraged local councils to systematically dismantle illegal Roma slums, and offer the expelled residents free flights back to their countries of origin.

He has also been at the forefront of French opposition to allowing Bulgaria and Romania full access to the passport-free Schengen zone.

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