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France bristles at comparison of Roma roundups to Nazi tactics

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Vadim Ghirda/AP

(Read caption) Romanian Roma women look at journalists after they and more than 200 others arrived on two special flights from France, in Bucharest, Romania, Sept. 14.

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s Gypsy problem keeps getting bigger.

France may face disciplinary action or fines from the European Union for targeting Gypsies specifically from Romania and Bulgaria – known as Roma – as an entire ethnic minority. Mr. Sarkozy in July initiated a campaign of police roundups and deportations against the Roma.

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France could face charges at the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg on two counts, according to EU officials. The first is a violation of law governing behavior toward an ethnic group and the second could be for not providing Roma deportees with judicial appeal in accordance with EU regulations.

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EU Justice Minister Viviane Reding on Tuesday blasted the French policy, saying she was “shocked” that Gypsies were targeted. "This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," she said. Vichy France collaborated with Nazi roundups of Jews and Gypsies in the early 1940s.

French officials shot back Wednesday, saying that to compare its deportations of Gypsies to Nazi policies against Jews and Gypsies in the World War II was “unseemly.”

During the summer, French officials steadily maintained that the country was not focusing on Gypsies as a single ethnic group. Police notifications issued in July and circulated in August to French police stations – and published by French newspaper Le Monde – called closing some 300 Gypsy camps a “priority.”

In addition to some 15,000 Roma living in France are another 400,000 French Gypsies, known as “travelers." The French police have been shutting down Roma camps and deporting the inhabitants to Romania with a sendoff gift of 300 euros.

Sarkozy's Gypsy policy is fairly similar to roundups and deportations of Romanian Gypsies in previous years – though the president chose to make it a high-profile security issue in the midst of several government scandals and falling public support. The move appears to have backfired amid blistering protests over the Roma policy by liberals and even members of Sarkozy's own coalition.