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Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic and the EU-bound country's ombudsman on Friday slammed a recent protest against Roma families as shameful and discriminatory.
“We cannot present ourselves as a country that promotes anti-discrimination and human rights ... without condemning (such) shameful and unacceptable situations or incidents (like the one) that occurred with two Roma families in Skabrnje,” Pusic told parliament.
Earlier this week some 100 people protested in Skabrnje, a village near the coastal town of Zadar, against the arrival of two Roma families. The families wanted to settle in the village after they bought some 5,000 square metres (53,820 square feet) of land there.
The protesters told local media they worried the Roma would “steal and collect garbage”.
“As long as one can remember there were no Serbs or Romas in Skabrnje and it will remain that way in future,” one of the protestors was quoted as saying.
“There is no room for such statements in 21st century Croatia,” ombudsman Jurica Malcic said in a statement on Friday.
He slammed both the protest and the offer of Skabrnje's mayor to “buy off the Romas' land only that they could leave” as discriminatory.
Some 17 members of the two Roma families, who were under police protection, left the village late Thursday saying they feared for their lives, national television reported.
According to official figures Croatia, which has a population of 4.2 million, is home to some 9 500 Romas. However, their real number is estimated to be as many as 40 000.
Croatia is set to join the European Union in 2013. The respect of minority rights was among key criteria for its bid to join the 27-nation bloc. - Sapa-AFP