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 where 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 journalist, "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, nor 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 the World War II. In France, one of the internment camps for Gypsies was located in Montreuil-Bellay, only 37 miles from Cholet.
The lawmaker's comment was criticized by leaders of his center-right political party, the UDI, which could exclude him from it.
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. Tomorrow, some people could be moved to action and come to threaten them." Bourdouleix's words "reinforce rejection, discrimination and exclusion," Sauve told The Associated Press. 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 pronounced -- 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. Their number in France is estimated around 400,000, 95 percent of French nationality. Tensions often result from their caravans using illegal sites. Whereas the law forces cities to provide areas for them, Gypsies often claim they are not adapted to their needs.
They are different from people referred to in France as Roma who are, for the most part, recent migrants from Romania or Bulgaria.