Merkel opens Roma Holocaust memorial in Berlin

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Media captionStephen Evans says the dedication ceremony was very moving

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has opened a memorial in Berlin to Roma (Gypsy) Nazi Holocaust victims.

The memorial - a circular pool of water with a small plinth in the middle - is in Tiergarten park, near the Reichstag, the German parliament building.

The unveiling comes after years of delays and disputes over the memorial's design and its cost.

Experts say between 220,000 and 500,000 members of the Roma and related Sinti people were killed during World War II.

President Joachim Gauck and some 100 elderly survivors joined Mrs Merkel at the opening ceremony.

They observed a two-minute silence around the pool as the triangular plinth was raised from below the surface with a flower on it.

Speaking just before, Mrs Merkel paid an emotional tribute to the victims.

"Every single fate in this genocide is a suffering beyond understanding. Every single fate fills me with sorrow and shame," she said.

It was important to remember so that such atrocities were not repeated, she added.

"It is not only the responsibility of educational institutions, as important as they are, but it's our responsibility, it's the responsibility of each and every one of us, because in indifference, in a culture of 'it's not my business'... this is where the seed of contempt for human values starts growing."

Ongoing discrimination

The memorial has been designed by the Israeli artist Dani Karavan. A fresh flower will be laid on the plinth at the centre of the memorial every day.

Image caption Between 220,000 and 500,000 Roma and Sinti were killed during World War II

Auschwitz by Italian poet Santino Spinelli is engraved around the pool's rim.

A chronology of the Nazi extermination campaign stands next to the memorial.

In 1982, Germany officially recognised the genocide of the Roma and Sinti - a related people who live mostly in German-speaking areas of Central Europe.

The leader of the Central Council of Sinti and Roma in Germany, Romani Rose, was also at the ceremony.

He told Agence France-Presse: "Opening the memorial sends an important message to society that anti-Roma sentiment is as unacceptable as anti-Semitism."

However, Roma organisations and human rights groups say they are still discriminated against in many European countries.

German newspapers on Wednesday pointed out that Germany turns down asylum applications from Roma from Kosovo, and some accused Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich of unacceptable discrimination when he referred recently to "increasing abuse of asylum from countries in the Balkans".

A front-page commentary by Klaus Hillenbrand in Die Tageszeitung said: "It is, of course, nevertheless right for the chancellor and the president to turn the inauguration of the modest memorial into an act of state... Better decades too late than never."

However, in Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel, Gerrit Bartels says that, although the memorial "finally recognises the Nazi genocide of Europe's Sinti and Roma... it certainly does not show future generations of Sinti and Roma a way out of the dilemma between exclusion, separation and assimilation".

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