Paris - French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday slammed the savage vigilante assault of a Roma teenager who was left fighting for his life as an “unspeakable and unjustifiable” act.
In a statement issued by the presidency, he asked “that everything be done to find those responsible for this attack” on the 16-year-old who was dragged into a basement on Friday and brutally beaten by a dozen residents of a housing estate north of Paris.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls joined Hollande in condemning the assault on the teen, who was discovered unconscious on Friday evening in a supermarket trolley after the assault in the town of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine.
The teenager, who lived with his family and other Roma in a squalid camp sprung up around an abandoned house, was accused of breaking into an apartment in the estate just hours earlier.
“A group of several people came to find him and take him away by force,” a police source said Monday, adding the boy was then locked in a basement where he was beaten.
Another source close to the case said about “a dozen people” took part in the attack. It was the boy's mother who alerted police that her son had been kidnapped.
A judicial source, also requesting anonymity, said the boy's “life is in danger. He is in a coma.”
Michel Fourcade, the mayor of Pierrefitte-sur-Seine, said the boy had been questioned by police several times this month in connection with a string of robberies in the housing project.
This had fuelled anger towards the Roma, an ethnic minority also known as Gypsies, whose presence in illegal camps on the fringes of towns and cities has often spurred controversy in France.
Ion Vardu, who lives next to the Roma camp, said about 200 members of the traditionally nomadic community had arrived “three weeks ago.”
On Monday the camp lay abandoned, rubbish, clothing and mattresses strewn in the garden after the Romas' rapid departure following the attack on the teenager.
“They left immediately,” said Vardu.
Rights organisations have warned of a spike in violence against the Roma in France, where they are often stigmatised and accused of being behind a rise in petty crime.
SOS Racisme said the attack was the “obvious result of nauseating tensions faced by our fellow citizens.”
“We expect a radical change in discourse and an extremely clear denunciation of the violence they are facing,” said Benjamin Abtan, head of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM).
France has faced mounting criticism over its treatment of the Roma minority, having evicted a record 19 380 members of the community from camps in 2013.