Europe

Protesters disrupt French schools in Leonarda row

  • 18 October 2013
  • From the section Europe

Schools in Paris and other French cities are being disrupted again by pupil protests over the removal of two foreign students from France.

Protesters gathered on the French capital's Bastille square, traditional meeting-place of the left, as some demonstrators clashed with riot police.

Divisions have appeared among the ruling Socialists over the affair.

It has emerged that the father of a Roma schoolgirl at the centre of the row lied over his asylum claim.

However, the anger in France has focused on the way Leonarda Dibrani, 15, was removed from a school bus to be expelled along with her family earlier this month. They had been living in the eastern region of Doubs for several years.

While President Francois Hollande has remained silent, his partner, Valerie Trierweiler, spoke out on Friday to question the girl's treatment.

Protesters are calling for the resignation of Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who has defended the authorities' tough line and takes a tough policy towards Roma immigrants in general.

The minister has cut short an official visit to the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe in order to return to Paris, where findings of an inquiry into the handling of the affair are expected to be ready shortly.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said the family will be allowed to return if "any fault is found" with the expulsion order.

There is also anger over the removal of Khatchik Kachatryan, a 19-year-old student in Paris who was expelled on Saturday to Armenia after being arrested for shoplifting, at which point police discovered he had entered France illegally.

School 'sanctuary'

Police fired tear gas at some protesters in Paris but the demonstration in the Nation-Bastille area appeared to be passing off peacefully in the main.

Pupils partially blocked entry to as many as 20 secondary schools in Paris while allowing other pupils to enter to attend classes, the pupils' union Fidl said.

Image caption It is the second day of disruption at some schools in Paris
Image caption Wheelie bins were used to block entrances to schools
Image caption They came out in support of Roma girl Leonarda Dibrani but also Armenian teenager Khatchik Kachatryan
Image caption The students unrest is adding to strain on the ruling Socialists
Image caption French Interior Minister Manuel Valls has cut short a visit to Martinique
Image caption Leonarda Dibrani says she wants to return to France to continue her education

Outside one school in central Paris, the Lycee Charlemagne, wheelie bins were used to block the entrance. A banner read "Jotters not [ID] papers".

One protester at the school, named as David, told Reuters: "We're a bit lost, we say our country is the country of human rights, a country which welcomes people and we still deport a 15-year-old girl and a 19-year-old student to a country... that they don't know and where they have no future."

There appeared to be less protest activity in other French cities but some schools were affected in Marseille, Lyon and Rouen.

Speaking on a visit to Angers, Ms Trierweiler said "certain boundaries cannot be crossed" and "the school gate is one of them".

Education Minister Vincent Peillon told French radio that it was wrong for the authorities to have detained the girl while she was on a trip.

"What is certain is that when one is in the setting of a class outing, and that was the case, you are part of school life... and you can't intervene during that time," he said. "That means schools are kind of a sanctuary."

Opinion polls suggest Mr Valls is the most popular member of President Hollande's government with the wider public.

His critics point to the fact that he himself was born in Spain. However, he was naturalised in France more than 20 years ago.

Father's lies

Leonarda Dibrani and her family have been given a flat and a small allowance in the Kosovo city of Mitrovica, where they have been speaking to French journalists about the shock of being sent to a region where they are strangers, unable to speak Albanian.

Resat Dibrani told media in Kosovo, where he and his family were expelled, that he had lied to the French authorities when he said his family was from the breakaway Serbian region.

In fact, only he was born there while, according to him, his daughter Leonarda and other members of his family were born in Italy.

"We lied to the authorities when we said we were from Kosovo," he told Reuters news agency.

It emerged in France that the father was investigated by French authorities for allegedly beating his family.

Khatchik Kachatryan spoke by phone from his home village in Armenia on Friday to say he had been forced on to a plane on Saturday after having his hands and feet bound and being gagged. The allegation could not be verified independently.

He told French broadcaster BFMTV that he now faced having to do two years' military service in Armenia. This is the standard term for conscripts.

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