Roma urge Romania to end discrimination

BUCHAREST, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Activists urged the Romanian government on Thursday to do more to curb discrimination against Gypsies, in response to an apology by President Traian Basescu for Romania's role in sending Roma to World War Two death camps.

Basescu said earlier this week, in a first-ever official apology to the Roma people, that authorities had mercilessly pursued a policy of ethnic purification six decades ago.

"Basescu's address is a badly needed reparation. No-one before him has ever apologised for the atrocities," said Florin Moisa, head of independent Research Centre for Roma Communities.

"However, the government should make further efforts to put into practice a national strategy for Roma and eradicate discrimination," Moisa told Reuters.

Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany during World War Two, admitted for the first time in 2003 that it took part in the extermination of Jews and Gypsies.

"Forgive us brothers and sisters," Basescu said after presenting state medals to three Roma concentration camp survivors this week.

"We must tell our children that six decades ago, children like them had been sent by Romania to die of hunger and cold. We must tell Romanian mothers that the Romanian state killed Roma mothers through slavery and misery."

Rights campaigners said the plea might help Romania to deal with its past.

About two million Roma live in Romania, many of whom struggle with prejudice, poverty and illiteracy.

An international commission said in 2004 that during World War Two, 25,000 Roma were deported from Romanian-controlled territory and at least 11,000 died.

Roma campaigners said Romania should do more to teach youth about the Holocaust.

"The plight of the Roma during the Holocaust should be written about in Romanian school history books," said Ciprian Necula, rights campaigner and Roma expert in a EU-financed programme.

"The Roma people are generally ignored. Authorities should do more to combat discrimination," Necula said.