COSTESTI, Romania – COSTESTI, Romania (AP) — A Romanian Gypsy leader on Wednesday compared French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Romania's pro-Nazi wartime leader, following the expulsion of hundreds of Gypsies from France.
Speaking during an annual Gypsy feast held on a hill at the foots of the Carpathian Mountains, Iulian Radulescu told The Associated Press that Gypsies — also known as Roma — are being unfairly expelled from France.
Dressed in a gray suit and sitting inside a white marquee tent, Radulescu said that hundreds of Gypsies are paying the price "for the crimes of the few."
"It is not right to be expelled if you are a law-abiding citizen," the 71-year-old Radulescu said.
France has sent back about 1,000 Gypsies to Romania and Bulgaria in recent weeks as part of its crime fighting measures. Sarkozy has linked Roma to crime, calling the camps in which some of them live, sources of trafficking, exploitation of children and prostitution.
There are between 10 million and 12 million Gypsies in the EU, most living in dire circumstances, victims of poverty, discrimination, violence, unemployment and bad housing. An estimated 1.5 million of them live in Romania, a country of 22 million, which has the largest population of Gypsies in Europe.
Both France and Romania are members of European Union, and under the rules governing the 27-member bloc its citizens can travel freely within the union, but the governments are also legally permitted to send citizens of other EU countries home if they can't find work or support themselves.
The expulsions have been criticized from several quarters including the Roman Catholic Church and the United Nations, and even by some members of Sarkozy's government and political party have expressed concerns about them.
Also Wednesday, the U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, warned that France's expulsion policy would "only exacerbate the stigmatization of Roma" and worsen the poverty they face, and called on all European countries to enact policies that would help the Gypsies "overcome their marginalization." The comments came in a statement she plans to deliver Monday at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council's three-week meeting in Geneva.
Gypsy leader Radulescu compared the expulsions to the ones carried out by Romania's pro-Nazi dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu, who ruled the country during the World War II.
Antonescu deported 25,000 Gypsies from Romania to the Soviet region of Trans-Dniester in 1942. Some 11,000 Gypsies died from exposure, typhus, starvation and thirst after they were deported from Romania. A lack of wartime records makes it difficult to determine the overall number of Gypsies killed during the Holocaust, but according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, it is between 220,000 and 500,000.
"Sarkozy is doing what Antonescu did," Radulescu said. He also urged Gypsy leaders to try and stop crime within their communities.
A French foreign ministry spokesman, Bernard Valero, dismissed the comments, saying he declined to enter into "fruitless debates."
"We consider that it is an European problem that should be solved with an European solution," Valero said.
The issue of expulsion will top the agenda of planned talks between French Immigration Minister Eric Besson and the Minister for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, who will visit Romania on Thursday, Valero said.
Romania's President Traian Basescu sent his adviser Peter Eckstein to tell the revelers that he supports their freedom of movement within the European Union, but also urged them to send their children to school.
At the festival, Gypsies roasted pigs and chicken on open spits, while children played on merry go rounds and listened to Gypsy pop and French rap music.
Another Gypsy leader Florin Cioaba told hundreds gathered that they are being discriminated in Europe.
"There is one set of laws for European citizens and different laws for the Roma," Cioaba said.
Associated Press writer Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Frank Jordans in Geneva and Daphne Rousseau in Paris contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS spelling to read 'Lellouche'.)