Sarkozy party under fire over mayor's Roma fire 'gag'

Sarkozy party under fire over mayor's Roma fire 'gag'

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Sarkozy party under fire over mayors Roma fire gag

A Roma child rides his bike near shelters at an illegal camp on the bank of the Var river in Nice, southeastern France, Nov 6, 2013. REUTERS photo

France's main opposition party is under pressure to expel a local mayor who joked that firemen had been called "too early" to put out a blaze in a Roma camp.

Luc Jousse, the mayor of the Riviera town of Roquebrune-sur-Argens, faces disciplinary proceedings after being recorded describing Roma living in the area as a "nightmare" and complaining about local firemen being called nine times to their temporary settlement.

"You know what they do: they pinch electric cables then burn them to get the copper and then they set their own caravans alight," Jousse is heard saying on the recording, made secretly and published by investigative news website Mediapart.

"It's a joke! What's almost a shame is that the rescue services were called too early!" Jousse, a member of the UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy, has been ordered to appear before a party disciplinary hearing on Dec. 11 and could face criminal proceedings after rights group SOS Racisme said it would file a complaint.

The mayor defended his comments as a joke that had been taken out of context. "To say I wanted to burn Roma is simply shameful when it was me who sent the firemen nine times," he told AFP.
UMP party leader Jean-Francois Cope has so far been silent on the incident, which has led to criticism from political rivals, including from the far right National Front which hopes to unseat Jousse in municipal elections next year.

The mayor's outburst was the latest in a series of anti-Roma remarks from politicians in France which have heightened concern amongst rights groups over the current climate of hostility towards the ethnic group.

There are an estimated 20,000 Roma -- mostly migrants from Bulgaria or Romania -- living in temporary, often illegal, camps on the edges of French towns.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls drew criticism earlier this year for saying few of the Roma had any interest in settling in France and should return to their countries of origin.