ADVERTISEMENT

PARIS (AP) A vigilante attack against a Roma teenager raised pressure on the French government Tuesday for its policies toward the ethnic minority even as the president condemned the "unspeakable and unjustifiable" violence that left the boy bleeding and unconscious in a grocery cart by the side of a highway.

Anti-discrimination groups say violence in France is rising against Roma, also known as Gypsies, who come primarily from Eastern Europe and are often blamed for petty crime.

Many live in makeshift camps on the sides of highways or in vacant lots, lacking running water or electricity. Without regular documentation of their residence, they have a hard time enrolling children into school, applying for subsidized housing, getting national health care or finding permanent work.

Several dozen Roma families in the boy's makeshift camp in Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, a grim northern suburb of Paris, cleared out Tuesday, abandoning what was already one of the poorest areas in France.

"The motive of this lynching, it was vengeance," prosecutor Sylvie Moisson told reporters at a news conference Tuesday, saying the teen's condition remained life-threatening. "To practically condemn him to death is barbaric."

Police say about a dozen young people went into the Roma camp Friday after a series of burglaries in the area. They seized the boy, who is about 16, and took him to the City of Poets, as the local housing project is known. There, police say, he was beaten unconscious, stuffed into a shopping cart and wheeled to the roadside.

Luc Poignant, a police union official, told LCI television that doctors put the young man into a medically induced coma "because he was in so much pain."

An official close to the investigation, who discussed details of the probe on condition of anonymity, said the teen's mother sought help after receiving a call from his cellphone from someone demanding ransom in exchange for his safe return.

There have been no arrests in the attack but Moisson said police were questioning possible witnesses.

French President Francois Hollande called the attack "an offense against the founding principles of our country." Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in charge of French police, also condemned the attackers, saying "it is exclusively up to security forces to ensure that public order is respected."

Yet some anti-racism groups say the attack is the result of years of government-supported discrimination against Roma in France.

About 20,000 Roma families were expelled from their makeshift homes in 2013, most of them in the summer, according to Amnesty International. A new round of expulsions is expected to begin shortly, with a major Roma camp in the southern city of Marseille being dismantled on Wednesday, Amnesty said.

The government says the camps violate public health standards but critics say it is worse for the Roma when the camps are demolished.

"The fact that they live in camps and then they're left without shelter, that leaves them more vulnerable and more exposed to violence," said Julie Hesloin, who has documented the issue for Amnesty. "There have been elections and new mayors elected who campaigned on expulsions."

The encampment where the teen lived was in a tense and troubled neighborhood where police and youths have clashed in the past. The Roma community had moved in fairly recently, after being driven out of at least one previous location in 2013.

By Tuesday afternoon, the police official said, they had settled elsewhere.