Tens of thousands protested in cities across France on Saturday against a government law and order crackdown that has targeted the Roma minority, as smaller demonstrations took place in European capitals.
In Paris, leaders of leftist opposition parties marched alongside Roma migrants whose camp had been bulldozed by the authorities. Police said the demonstration gathered 12,000 people; organizers put the figure at 50,000.
Thousands more marched in Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse and other cities in rallies joined by human rights groups and trade unions.
Earlier a group of celebrities from the arts world, including actress-singer Jane Birkin, staged a protest in support of undocumented migrants outside the ministry of immigration.
However, French Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux dismissed the protests, saying the turnout was a disappointment for the organizers.
“Even though they were organized by about 60 associations, collectives, unions and political parties, today’s so-called ‘defense of human rights’ demonstrations only managed to bring out, in total, across the whole of the territory, a few tens of thousands of people,” he said.
“It is, without any doubt, a disappointment for the organizers,” he added.
Police estimates suggested more than 30,000 had demonstrated across France, while organizers of the rallies put the total at 100,000.
The hardline national security secretary of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, Eric Ciotti, had already slammed the demonstrations as “guilty complicity with those who flout the laws of the republic.”
Sarkozy’s government embarked on a major law and order clampdown in July, which included the highly publicized, and much criticized expulsion of nearly 1,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria.
In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, more than 1,000 people took part in a two-hour march calling for an end to “xenophobic” policies.
“It is a right and a duty for us to take part in this demonstration, because if we let them crush us, you wonder where this will lead,” said Antoinou Jimenez, a representative of a group of travelers in the area.
A similar number of people gathered in Toulouse for a demonstration against “state racism.”
About 20 people gathered outside the French embassy in London. Some held placards with a picture of Sarkozy which said: “Behind the smile, the guilt.”
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