Bulgaria's conservative government defended on Saturday the expulsion of Roma migrants by France.

"The right of freedom of movement does not automatically guarantee the right to settle down," Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov said ahead of a protest by Roma outside the French embassy in Sofia.

France is repatriating the Roma on the grounds that they cannot support themselves after spending more than three months in the country.

The French government had "legal justification," for its action, said the minister, adding the Roma who left for home did so voluntarily.

France has expelled around 40 Roma to Bulgaria and a larger number to Romania in its latest crackdown on camps housing illegal migrants.

Roma make up 650,000 of Bulgaria's 7.5-million population.

At the embassy protest Bulgarian Roma and human rights groups planned to present a letter calling on French President Nicolas Sarkozy ?to stop the deportation of citizens from fellow EU states."We demand that Roma be given the same rights as other EU citizens," a representative of the Roma association DROM told Bulgarian state radio.

Since the beginning of the year, France has deported more than 8,300 Romanians and Bulgarians, most if not all of them Roma, or Gypsies.

At the heart of the now Europewide debate on this issue is a circular, issued on August 5 by the French interior ministry, that exhorted prefects to dismantle at least half of the 600 illegal camps throughout the country, "in priority those of the Roma.:

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