PARIS – A French lawmaker is defending himself against accusations that he told a group of Gypsies he wished the Nazis had killed more members of the minority during World War II.
Gilles Bourdouleix, a member of parliament and mayor for the town of Cholet near Nantes, had a confrontation with Gypsies on Sunday, when he visited a field owned by the town where Gypsies are illegally living in caravans. He asked them to leave.
The Courrier de l'Ouest newspaper, which had a journalist at the scene, reported that some of the Gypsies made Nazi salutes at Bourdouleix and that he responded by saying: "Maybe Hitler didn't kill enough of them." On Monday, the paper released a recording on its website during which the lawmaker can be heard saying that.
On Tuesday, Bourdouleix told the French television station iTELE that he was merely repeating a statement the journalist had made. The lawmaker, who threatened to sue the paper, also said that if he meets the reporter, "I'd want to give him a couple of punches."
France's Interior Ministry said Tuesday that it has asked prosecutors to investigate whether Bourdouleix could be sued for excusing crimes against humanity. "Nothing can justify, or excuse, that an elected representative of the republic dares such a reference to the worst barbarism of the 20th century," the ministry said in a statement.
Europe's Gypsies were persecuted and deported to concentration and death camps by the Nazis during World War II. In France, one of the internment camps for Gypsies was located in Montreuil-Bellay, only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Cholet.
The lawmaker's comment was criticized by leaders of his center-right political party, the UDI.
He also was criticized by an activist and another political party.
"To me, these words are words of hatred," said Christophe Sauve, president of ANGVC (the National Association of Catholic Gypsies), a group that defends Gypsies' rights. "Some (Gypsy) families are starting to be anxious," he told The Associated Press. Bourdouleix's words "reinforce rejection, discrimination and exclusion," said Sauve. He threatened to sue the politician.
"I'm appalled," said Socialist Party spokesman David Assouline. "That's far beyond all limits, once again. ... There are ideologies with which no compromise, no concession can be made, no indulgence from any politician can be possible. I hope — if it is confirmed that these words were said — that there will be legal proceedings," Assouline said at a news conference.
Gypsies — referred to in French as "gens du voyage" — usually live in caravans, moving from town to town. There are an estimated 400,000 Gypsies in France, 95 percent of them with French nationality. Tensions often flare when their caravans are parked at illegal sites. French law forces cities to provide areas for Gypsies to stay, but they often criticize them as inadequate.
In France, Gypsies and Roma are separate minorities, with the latter made up of recent migrants from Romania or Bulgaria.