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Romanian president asked France to stop Roma expulsions

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(BUCHAREST) - Romania's President Traian Basescu said Wednesday he had asked his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy last week to "try to stop" the expulsions of Roma from France.

"I asked President Sarkozy to try to stop the expulsions," Basescu told foreign media, adding he made the request in a "friendly conversation" with Sarkozy on the sidelines of a European summit.

"The answer was unclear but we decided to talk this over during a meeting in the coming weeks," he said. "We agreed to find a solution for the nomad Roma."

More than 1,000 Romanian and Bulgarian Roma have been expelled since Sarkozy announced late July a clampdown which has attracted criticism at home and abroad, and increased tensions between France and Romania.

"Romania will always defend the Roma's right to move freely in Europe. They are European citizens and as long as there is no evidence they broke the law they should enjoy the same rights of any European citizen," Basescu stressed.

He said about 1.5 million Roma live in Romania, "one million of whom are fully integrated, while half a million are not".

Romania's Roma community is the biggest in Europe: while the official census puts the figure at 530,000 people, some pressure groups say it is as high as 2.5 million, explaining that most Roma do not declare themselves as such fearing discrimination.

"Expulsions are only a temporary solution. Romania will never deprive Roma of their passports so they will continue to leave" the country, the president added.

He said more funds should be devoted to Roma integration at the European level. The money should go primarily to improving the minority's access to education.

While Romania has been criticised for not doing enough to improve the plight of the Roma, Basescu said he was "wondering whether every European state's laws were in agreement with EU rules on the freedom of movement."

He insisted that Romania has put in place a policy of affirmative action with a quota for Roma students in universities.

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