Germany: Merkel did not tell France’s Sarkozy her country would also clear out illegal camps

Friday, September 17, 2010

Germany denies alleged Merkel comment on camps

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office denied Friday that she had told French President Nicolas Sarkozy her country planned to evacuate its own illegal immigrant camps, after he suggested Berlin was planning measures similar to those undertaken by Paris.

Sarkozy, who has drawn widespread international condemnation for ordering the clearing out some 100 illegal immigrant camps, many inhabited by Gypsies — also known as Roma — told reporters after the European Union summit on Thursday that Germany planned similar action.

“Madame Merkel indicated to me her will to proceed in the coming weeks with the evacuation of camps. We will see at that point the calm that reigns in German political life,” he said.

Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, flatly denied the chancellor had made any such remark, but refused to be drawn on what her reaction to it was.

“The issue of the Roma in Germany played no role in the talks between the chancellor and the French president,” Seibert said, adding that the situation in Germany cannot be compared to that in France.

“We do not have camps like that,” Seibert said at a regularly scheduled news conference. “It was not a topic.”

Seibert said Merkel hadn’t talked either at the EU summit or in conversation with Sarkozy in Brussels “about putative Roma camps in Germany, not to mention their being cleared.”

Debate over France’s Roma expulsions dominated the EU summit Thursday.

In recent weeks, French authorities have moved in and dismantled the camps, which Sarkozy says are havens of crime and squalor. More than 1,000 Roma have been deported from France, mainly back to Romania.

Seibert refused to comment on how the comments had originated or what was behind them, warning that they should not be taken out of proportion.

“We should not blow this up into a strain on French-German relations,” Seibert said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle described Sarkozy’s comment on the chancellor’s alleged plan as a “misunderstanding” and stressed the right of the French government to enforce the nation’s law.

Earlier this week, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding sharply criticized the deportations and linked them to France’s mass deportations of Jews during World War II. She later expressed regret over the wartime comparison, but maintained her threat to take France to court for targeting an ethnic group in the expulsions.

Germany has criticized the tone of Reding’s comments but has avoided comment on the expulsions themselves.

The wartime comparison stung many in France. The country deported some 76,000 Jews from France to Nazi concentration camps and interned thousands of Gypsies in camps in France during the war.

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.


Associated Press Writer Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris

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