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French Ministers Defend Roma Policy

The French government has defended itself against a top EU commissioner who criticized the mass expulsion of France's Roma population.

Speaking on French radio, the Secretary of State responsible for European affairs, Pierre Lellouche, described the EU Commissioner's comments as a "gaffe." He said France is a "great state" and as a founding member of the European Union should be addressed suitably.

On Tuesday, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding spoke out against the French Roma policy in a fiery public rebuke.

"This is a disgrace," said Reding. "Discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin or race has no place in Europe."

French authorities have expelled more than 1,000 Roma since August. Most have been returned to Romania.

The French government has repeatedly said Roma have been expelled on a case-by-case basis. But a memo leaked Monday suggests Roma have been specifically targeted as a group.

Reding said France may be breaking EU law. She said she felt "appalled."

"This is a situation I had thought Europe would not have to witness again after the Second World War," added Reding.

As well as deporting Roma, French authorities have also dismantled more than 100 illegal Roma camps.

Benjamin Ward, from the international group Human Rights Watch, says Roma are not given sufficient warning, and in effect France is carrying out forced evictions.

"We are not satisfied that the process that is being followed in evicting people from those camps meets international human rights standards," noted Ward.

French authorities say Roma have been expelled from France to deal with security problems. Roma have been given financial compensation and the French government says they have gone voluntarily.

Last week, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for France to end the expulsions.