Saturday, August 14, 2010



Sarkozy's crystal ball sees votes in moving on Gypsies August 14, 2010
By Gregory Viscusi

The French President has ordered the expulsion of hundreds of Roma.
GRENOBLE: Marka, who lives in a wooden shack with her husband in a camp holding about 300 Roma built next to a rail yard on the outskirts of Paris, says she feels every day could be their last one there.

The 17-year-old, who earns about €10 ($12.90) a day doing skits for tourists, is among Gypsies targeted by the French government for expulsion. The President, Nicolas Sarkozy, responding to a spate of violent crimes, last month ordered that 300 illegal Roma camps be dismantled and residents expelled.

For Mr Sarkozy, who faces re-election in 2012, the evictions are among a series of steps, including stripping naturalised citizens of their French citizenship if they commit serious crimes and jailing parents of juvenile delinquents - to show he's tough on crime. Politically, the moves are paying off as polls show the French support the measures, giving Mr Sarkozy a bump up from record-low approval ratings.

Sarkozy is surfing a radicalisation of public opinion on the question of security and immigration,'' said Laurent Dubois, a professor at Paris's Institute of Political Studies. ''Sarkozy's declarations are a series of landmines that he's slipped in under the summer sand. It helps remobilise the right, while at the same time creating divisions on the left.''

The President's popularity ratings are rebounding, according to a CSA poll published in Le Parisien on August 7. People who said they have confidence in Mr Sarkozy rose to 34 per cent this month from a record low of 32 per cent last month. The poll questioned 1002 people.

The Socialist Party, the main opposition, is struggling to come up with a response.

''Among voters, security is an issue where there is a lot of common ground across the political spectrum,'' said Jean-Daniel Levy, the head of the political department at CSA. ''Many of the voters on the left don't think the Socialist leadership is adequately tough on questions of security.''

An Ifop poll published August 6 in the pro-government newspaper Le Figaro said 79 per cent were in favour of dismantling Gypsy camps. Between 70 and 80 per cent favour taking citizenship away from foreign-born criminals. In a poll by CSA for the Communist Party newspaper Humanite, 62 per cent said dismantling the camps was ''necessary'' and 57 per cent said the same for taking away citizenship.

Martine Aubry, the head of the Socialist Party, has denounced Mr Sarkozy for ''sliding into anti-republican ideas that hurt France and its values''. She did not directly mention the proposals, and hasn't spoken publicly.

''It's a subject that Socialists are ill at ease about,'' Pierre Moscovici, a former Socialist minister and a member of parliament, said in an interview with RTL radio. ''We have to get back to talking about social issues, about pensions, jobs, taxes, and not fall for this bait.''

The dismantling of Gypsy camps, meanwhile, has begun. One camp in the industrial town of Saint-Etienne was dismantled on August 6 and 135 Roma ordered to leave the country. On Thursday, police evicted 60 Roma who had been living under a highway overpass in Choisy-le-Roi, south of Paris.

In the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, residents of a 10-year-old Gypsy camp were evacuated by the police last month. This week, they were offered four empty lots by the Communist Party mayor.

On a recent day, men were building shacks there, using wood they had found. Most of them speak French and children at the camp go to school, said Miahai Stefan, 30, a scrap-metal collector. ''We want to stay here,'' he said. ''We want a place to live, to work, and to send our kids to school.''

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