PARIS (TheBlaze/AP) -- A French lawmaker is defending himself against accusations that he told a group of Gypsies he wished the Nazis had killed more members of the minority during World War II.
Gilles Bourdouleix, a member of parliament and the mayor of the town of Cholet near Nantes, apparently had a confrontation with the Gypsies on Sunday when he visited a field where the group was illegally living in caravans. He asked them to leave.
The Courrier de l'Ouest newspaper, which had a journalist at the scene, reported that some of the Gypsies made Nazi salutes at Bourdouleix and that he responded by saying: "Maybe Hitler didn't kill enough of them."
He also accused the gypsies of incest, according to the Telegraph, saying: "The other day, they called me a pedophile, even though half of their children are from fathers and grandfathers."
The paper released a recording on its website in which lawmaker can be heard making the remarks.
But Bourdouleix told the French television station iTELE that he was merely repeating a statement the journalist who recorded the scene had made with regard to the Hitler comment. The lawmaker, who threatened to sue the paper, also said that if he meets the reporter, "I'd want to give him a couple of punches."
France's Interior Ministry said Tuesday that it has already asked prosecutors to investigate whether Bourdouleix could be sued for excusing crimes against humanity. "Nothing can justify, or excuse, that an elected representative of the republic dares such a reference to the worst barbarism of the 20th century," the ministry said in a statement.
Europe's Gypsies were persecuted and deported to concentration and death camps by the Nazis during World War II. In France, one of the internment camps for Gypsies was located in Montreuil-Bellay, only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Cholet.
A Roma encampment is set up near a highway in Clamart, west of Paris, in this Friday Aug. 10, 2012. It was said to lack electricity and running water, with rats running rampant and fleas gnawing on the young and old alike. (Photo: AP)
The lawmaker's comment was criticized by leaders of his own center-right political party, the UDI, as well as other political parties.
"To me, these words are words of hatred," said Christophe Sauve, president of ANGVC (the National Association of Catholic Gypsies), a group that defends Gypsies' rights. "Some (Gypsy) families are starting to be anxious," he told The Associated Press. Bourdouleix's words "reinforce rejection, discrimination and exclusion," said Sauve. He threatened to sue the politician.
"I'm appalled," said Socialist Party spokesman David Assouline. "That's far beyond all limits, once again. ... There are ideologies with which no compromise, no concession can be made, no indulgence from any politician can be possible. I hope - if it is confirmed that these words were said - that there will be legal proceedings," Assouline said at a news conference.
Gypsies - referred to in French as "gens du voyage" - usually live in caravans, moving from town to town. There are an estimated 400,000 Gypsies in France, 95 percent of them with French nationality. French law forces cities with over 5,000 inhabitants to provide areas for Gypsies to stay, and tensions often flare when they park their caravans at illegal sites.