Much of France has returned from summer vacation in a rancorous mood, disturbed by a crackdown ordered by President Nicolas Sarkozy against illegal gypsy camps and naturalized immigrant youths who attack police in troubled suburbs.
The campaign, in which 50 of about 300 Roma camps have been destroyed since July, has added to political discontent already swelling over.
But the unease over the action against illegal Roma immigrants, most from Romania and Bulgaria, has been particularly strong, drawing criticism at home and abroad.
For many, such policies undermine France's idea of itself as a haven for exiles and a beacon for human rights.
Majority view is that the president decided to act against gypsies as a way to recover from flagging approval ratings in the polls and distract public opinion
A UN human rights panel sharply criticized Sarkozy's actions against the Roma camps last week and called on him to halt the campaign. Pope Benedict XVI called on Catholics to respect human diversity.
In the political arena, the policies have generated protests from Sarkozy's opponents, on the right as well as the left. The opposition Socialist leader, Martine Aubry, called Sarkozy's policies a “shame” for the country.
For additional content from The Washington Post, visit www.washingtonpost.com