HUMAN rights groups have accused Nicolas Sarkozy of stigmatising travellers after he announced a clearout of France's illegal campsites following a riot at the weekend.
The president has called a meeting at the Elysée to discuss the issue of travellers in France and "the problems created by their behaviour".
He declared "a war against delinquents" and said travellers staying on illegal sites would be expelled.
It comes after a riot by 50 travellers in Saint-Aignan (Loir-et-Cher) last weekend following the death of one of their group, who was shot by police for failing to stop at a road checkpoint.
The masked protestors brandishing knives and iron bars hacked down trees, traffic lights and road signs and burned cars in a four-hour stand-off with police. Some 300 soldiers were brought in to restore order.
The Ligue des Droits de l'Homme said Sarkozy was using the incident to make travellers "scapegoats" for wider security problems. La Voix des Roms said the president had picked "an easy target".
Another charity, Hors La Rue, said Sarkozy had "once again made a link between travellers and delinquency".
Government spokesman Luc Chatel said the intention was not to "stigmatise a community" but to "try to respond to a problem".
According to Parada France, a charity that works with Romanian and Bulgarian travellers in the Seine-Saint-Denis, said the number of expulsions had grown considerably in recent months.