French schoolchildren march in anger over expulsions

The BBC's Christian Fraser says 14 schools have been blockaded in Paris

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Thousands of schoolchildren in Paris and other parts of France have been demonstrating in anger over the expulsion of two foreign teenagers.

Twenty secondary schools in the French capital were disrupted as children joined a march, clenching fists in solidarity with the expelled pupils.

Some demanded the sacking of Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

In one case, a Roma schoolgirl was sent to Kosovo and in the other, a student was repatriated to Armenia.

There has been widespread indignation at the manner in which border police picked up schoolgirl Leonarda Dibrani, whose family had lost its bid for asylum in France after five years in the country.

Leonarda, 15, was escorted from her school bus by a teacher, in front of other children, in the eastern region of Doubs on 9 October.

The row has caused strains within the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande, whose most popular minister with the wider public is Mr Valls, according to opinion polls.

Mr Valls has drawn protests over his hard line on Roma immigrants.

Meanwhile, it has been suggested that only the father of the Dibrani girl is actually from Kosovo and that he lied about his family's origin in his bid to win asylum in France.

'Arrested for theft'

Schoolchildren left class to show solidarity both with Leonarda and Khatchik Kachatryan, a 19-year-old student in Paris who was expelled on Saturday to Armenia.

Mr Kachatryan was arrested for shoplifting in September, at which point police discovered he had entered France illegally, the French daily Le Figaro reports.

Leonarda Dibrani poses in her kitchen in Mitrovica, Kosovo, 17 October Leonarda says she faces discrimination back in Kosovo

Reports suggest that he was detained on his return to the former Soviet republic for seeking to escape doing military service.

"Bring back Khatchik and Leonarda, they belong here," marching pupils chanted on Thursday, holding up signs calling for Mr Valls to resign.

The president of France's National High School Students' Union, Ivan Dementhon, said students were angry at the way the Dibrani family had been treated.

"The expulsion of the young Leonarda is particularly shocking because it was done in a school environment," he said.

"It's not tolerable that students with or without documents are expelled. Everybody should have a right to education, and that is why all high school students are here."

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Journalists who visited the Dibrani family in Kosovo on Wednesday found them living in a house in the northern town of Mitrovica, despite earlier suggestions that they were homeless.

It has also emerged that the father, Resat, was investigated by French authorities for allegedly beating his family.

Resat was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying he was the only member of the family actually born in Kosovo, which he reportedly left in the early 1970s.

Leonarda and all the other members were born in Italy, he told the agency. "Then we came to France. We lied to the authorities when we said we were from Kosovo."

The family has been lodged in a Mitrovica with a monthly grant of 150 euros (£127; $203) from the Kosovan government, an official told Reuters, speaking anonymously. The official added that the authorities were unsure what to do about them because only the father was from Kosovo.

Mr Valls insists that the deportation of Leonarda and the rest of her family was carried out in line with established procedure.

"Any immigration policy requires respect for the law, respect for individuals and great firmness," he said this week.

Amnesty International recently reported that more than 10,000 Roma had been evicted from temporary camps in France in the first half of the year.

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

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