Thousands Protest Deportations Of Gypsy Immigrants In France

Paris -- Authorities say 77,000 protesters hit the streets in 130 towns across France in opposition to Sarkozy's program to dismantle illegal Roma camps. ith the fast beat of Gypsy music rousing the crowd over loudspeakers, thousands marched in Paris and other cities Saturday to protest the French government's deportations of Roma immigrants in the name of crime prevention. Police said 77,000 protesters, led by left-leaning political parties and human rights organizations, hit the streets in 130 towns across France in opposition to President Nicolas Sarkozy's program to dismantle illegal Roma camps. As part of his new security policy, nearly 1,000 Roma have been sent back to Bulgaria and Romania since the end of July. In Paris, Jeannine Otte wore the first article of the French Constitution plastered across her body: "France assures equality under the law to all its citizens, without distinction of origin." "The president violated this article by saying that not all French people should be punished equally for the same crime," Otte said. "It's a very heavy message to send to society, and especially to poor youth." Otte works with minority youths in France's suburbs, where many come from immigrant families. Despite being born in France, many complain of being viewed as un-French. "It's always the same people who are stigmatized," said Souad Djouahra, a French woman of Algerian origin. "He is saying that immigration is linked to crime, but there are immigrants who work, and are educated, like me. We feel so French.... They don't like us, and to them we'll never be French." Although Sarkozy's programs have drawn the ire of the U.N. and the European Commission, as well as leading clergymen and bipartisan politicians, the majority of French appear divided over the issue. On the sidelines of Saturday's protest, Barua Riton stood guard at his souvenir shop, where the Eiffel Tower could be found plastered on almost every object for sale.