PARIS, July 29 (UPI) -- French President Nicolas Sarkozy faced racism accusations Thursday for ordering 300 Gypsy camps dismantled and illegal Roma immigrants expelled.
"There is a huge problem of racism in France toward this population -- there is enormous discrimination," said Henri Braun, a lawyer for the French Roma ethnic group.
"I am afraid we're preparing to open a blighted page in the history of France, which could sadly lead to acts of reprisal in the days ahead," Britain's Daily Mail quoted Braun as saying.
The "blighted page" comment alluded to the French Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Petain, whose authorities rounded up Gypsies and sent them to Nazi concentration camps during World War II, the newspaper said.
Some 16,000 to 18,000 French Gypsies were killed in the camps, the Holocaust Resource Center estimates.
Sarkozy's actions Wednesday came three days after riots between Gypsies and French police, provoked by a police killing of a 22-year-old Gypsy man who drove through a police roadblock in the Loire Valley, dragging an officer on the hood of his car 0.3 mile. The officer was not seriously injured.
Some 50 rioters Sunday attacked a police station in Saint-Aignan, a small town in central France's Loir-et-Cher region, with axes and iron bars, police said. The rioters also set cars on fire, knocked down trees and traffic lights and attacked a local bakery.
Some 300 soldiers were called in to restore peace.
Sarkozy said the rioters would be "severely punished" and ordered authorities to expel illegal Roma immigrants, most who came from Eastern Europe, for "public order" offenses.
He said illegal Gypsy camps would be "systematically evacuated," calling them "sources of illegal trafficking, of profoundly shocking living standards, of exploitation of children for begging, of prostitution and crime."
Authorities estimate some 15,000 ethnic Roma, out of an estimated 400,000 itinerants, live in France.