France’s Hollande Tells Ministers To End Roma Row

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer PARIS | Wed Oct 2, 2013 8:05am EDT PARIS (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande told two of his top ministers on Wednesday they should end a public row over France’s policy towards its Roma population if they wanted to stay in his government. Interior Minister Manuel Valls last week said most of some 20,000 Roma housed in makeshift camps around French cities could never be integrated into French society and so should be “taken back to the border” for transfer back to Romania and Bulgaria. Housing Minister Cecile Duflot, a leader of the ecologist Greens coalition partners to the ruling Socialists, denounced Valls for betraying the core human rights values that France prided itself on, and demanded that Hollande reprimand him. Seeking to heal a widening rift between centrists and left-wingers in his coalition over the issue, Hollande took both Duflot and Valls to task at his weekly cabinet meeting. “I insist that all ministers pay full mind to their mission, their behavior, how they express themselves and of course, how they act,” Hollande told the meeting, according to presidential aides. “Being a member of a government does not mean you cannot have your point of view but it does mean you have to strictly apply the rules I have just set out,” he said, adding: “the debate should be inside the government not in public”. The dispute not only exposed tensions within Hollande’s 17-month-old coalition but raised new questions over the authority of the president, whose poll ratings have fallen to 23 percent amid dissatisfaction over his record on the economy and jobs. Hollande said he was also asking Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who is suffering from low popularity ratings too, to ensure better coordination in the government. The far-right National Front has signaled it plans to make the Roma issue a central campaign theme for next March’s municipal elections. It is hopeful it can tap a protest vote against Hollande to score gains in town halls across France. Valls’ tough talk on law and order has made him Hollande’s most popular government minister. A poll released at the weekend showed three-quarters of French agreed with his comments on the Roma. Hollande’s government has sought to distance itself from a hard-line policy under conservative former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who explicitly accused Roma of links to crime and launched a program of deportations.

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At the time, he was refusing to train for his club Newcastle as he tried to push through a move to join Arsenal. Cabaye has since returned to the Newcastle team and scored with a brilliant first-time strike in Monday night’s 3-2 loss at Everton. France plays Australia in a friendly match next Friday and then hosts Finland at Stade de France four days later. Remy has scored three goals in four games for Newcastle. His last France appearance was in March against Georgia. “Remy is effective, and he has the advantage of being able to play in several positions,” Deschamps said. “He is quick and make runs from deep. He’s very versatile.” Deschamps’ team looks certain to finish second in Group I behind Spain and having to qualify through the playoffs next month. They are level on points with Spain, but the World Cup winners have played a game less and have home games against Belarus and Georgia. “I don’t know what the odds are (of finishing top),” Deschamps said. “But they must be very slim.” Real Madrid center half Raphael Varane and Liverpool center back Mamadou Sakho are also back in the squad. Varane only returned from injury on Wednesday night and played the full 90 minutes in the 4-0 win against FC Copenhagen in the Champions League. — Squad: Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Mickael Landreau (Bastia). Defenders: Eric Abidal (Monaco), Gael Clichy (Manchester City), Mathieu Debuchy (Newcastle), Patrice Evra (Manchester United), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Mamadou Sakho (Liverpool), Raphael Varane (Real Madrid).