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Tensions rise in France after Roma camp torched

Advocates for Roma in France called Saturday for international protests to support the ethnic minority, two days after a group of residents in the southern city of Marseille expelled about 50 Roma from their camp and burned the site.

The residents blamed the Roma for a series of local burglaries. There is widespread political debate about France's treatment of the Roma, who are also known as Gypsies and who face discrimination across Europe. The French government dismantled dozens of camps over the summer, but vigilante acts such as the expulsion in Marseille are rare.

A French association representing Roma wants protests already planned in 15 countries on Oct. 7 to give a voice to the minority, saying they want to "reclaim the right to be legitimately heard."

Another group, called The Voice of the Roma, wrote an open letter Saturday to the mayor and Samia Ghali, another local official who got involved in the dispute, accusing them of pandering to the far-right. "Since you can't weigh the gravity of your words, can't you at least be quiet?" the letter said.

Ghali, who drew attention this summer by asking the federal government to send troops to Marseille to combat crime and violence there, has said she doesn't agree with the decision of residents to take matters into their own hands against the Roma.

"But I understand their exasperation. I met with them Thursday morning. They told me they'd had it with the thefts and the excrement everywhere," she said in an interview with Le Figaro newspaper.

On Thursday night, the residents forced the Roma out.

A French association representing Roma wants protests already planned in 15 countries on Oct. 7 to give a voice to the minority, saying Saturday they want to "reclaim the right to be legitimately heard."

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who was instrumental in the summer campaign to dismantle the Roma camps, released a statement late Friday calling on local and national officials not to exploit the situation. He also offered the reminder that "only police can resort to force, and only under the law, to carry out legal decisions or protect populations in potential danger."