PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande said on Saturday that a 15-year-old schoolgirl whose expulsion from France has sparked uproar could return to pursue her studies but without her family, a compromise following criticism from left-wing allies.
The outcry began after Leonarda Dibrani, whose family entered the country illegally in 2009, was ordered off a school bus by police in front of her classmates before being sent this month to Kosovo, her father’s native country.
Thousands of students marched through the streets of Paris and surrounding cities on Friday demanding that she be allowed to return to France, and Socialist lawmakers warned the party was at risk of “losing its soul” with tough deportation tactics.
Hundreds of students gathered on Saturday in northern Paris to call for Interior Minister Manuel Valls to resign.
Hollande’s gesture toward Dibrani, who said from Kosovo on Saturday she would not return without her family, appeared to be designed to show clemency without undermining his interior minister or offering fodder to a burgeoning far-right movement.
Frustration over illegal migration and Roma camps on the outskirts of French cities has bolstered support for the far-right National Front party ahead of municipal and European elections next year, putting Hollande in a delicate position.
The Socialist leader defended the deportation as legally sound because the Dibranis had exhausted all recourse for political asylum in France but said the decision was based on the need to take her “human situation” into account.
“She will be welcomed back, and her alone,” Hollande said in a recorded message from his office.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault had told parliament on Wednesday that Dibrani, who is of Roma descent, would be readmitted to France if it was found that police had broken the rules by arresting her on school property.
Hollande, citing a 24-page investigation into the school bus incident from the Interior Ministry, said police had broken no rules during Dibrani’s removal but that guidelines limiting police action on school property needed to be reinforced.
Dibrani, speaking from the Kosovo city of Mitrovica, said that she did not want to return to France without her family.
“I’ve refused because I want to go with family, not by myself - I can’t fend for myself,” she told Reuters.
A source close to talks about the girl said social services would take care of her if she returned to France.
Denying a return to Dibrani’s family showed Hollande’s support for Valls, the most popular member of his government who came under fire from Socialist lawmakers accusing him of betraying the left’s values.
Previously Dibrani’s father Reshat, who has admitted lying on his applications for asylum, said the family had packed its bags and would return to France even if the journey took days.
A survey by pollster BVA showed that more than two out of three Frenchmen opposed Dibrani’s return to France, while a majority found nothing shocking about the method of her removal.
But with support largely limited to students and left-wing members of parliament, the demonstrations appeared looked likely to peter out, with schools breaking up for a holiday.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, and Fatos Bytyci in Kosovo; Editing by Alison Williams