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France Defiant on Roma Deportations


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lashed out against EU leaders' sharp criticism of his country's deportation of thousands of ethnic Roma, known as Gypsies.

The verbal brawl dominated Thursday's one-day European Union summit, which had been called to solidify the 27-nation bloc's foreign and economic policies.

Mr. Sarkozy said the EU Justice Commissioner's suggestion that the expulsion policies echoed those of the Nazis in World War II was "disgusting and shameful."

He defiantly stated that France would continue to dismantle Roma camps, which he has described as part of a crackdown on crime.

Participants said the argument erupted into a heated debate between the French leader and the president of the EU commission Jose Manuel Barroso over lunch.

EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding had stepped back from her harsh words, but she has not retracted her rebuke of the French government's policies.

Reding and Sarkozy had spent days exchanging harsh words over the expulsions, which Reding had suggested had overtones of Nazi-era minority deportations. She has warned that Paris could face EU disciplinary action for the deportations.

French leaders have lashed out against the criticisms, calling them "unacceptable".

France has deported hundreds of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma back to their countries of origin over the years, but recently has increased the pace of expulsions.

Leaders had gathered at the Brussels summit to discuss ways to prevent new financial crises after the economic turmoil that has roiled various European countries.

The 27-nation economic bloc announced during the one-day summit that they had struck a free trade deal with South Korea.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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