You see that Madonna almost 50 years old, but see her show in Bucharest still get hot response from her fans. U.S. singer Madonna, center, performs during her concert in Bucharest, Romania, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009. The concert is part of Madonna's Sticky and Sweet Tour.
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BUCHAREST, Romania - At first, fans politely applauded the Roma performers sharing a stage with Madonna. Then the pop star condemned widespread discrimination against Roma, or Gypsies — and the cheers gave way to jeers.
The sharp mood change that swept the crowd of 60,000, who had packed a park for Wednesday night's concert, underscores how prejudice against Gypsies remains deeply entrenched across Eastern Europe.
Despite long-standing efforts to stamp out rampant bias, human rights advocates say Roma probably suffer more humiliation and endure more discrimination than any other people group on the continent.
Sometimes, it can be deadly: In neighboring Hungary, six Roma have been killed and several wounded in a recent series of apparently racially motivated attacks targeting small countryside villages predominantly settled by Gypsies.
Roma, or Gypsies, are a nomadic ethnic group believed to have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. They live mostly in southern and eastern Europe, but hundreds of thousands have migrated west over the past few decades in search of jobs and better living conditions. Romania has the largest number of Roma in the region. Some say the population could be as high as 2 million, although official data put it at 500,000.
Until the 19th century, Romanian Gypsies were slaves, and they've gotten a mixed response ever since: While discrimination is widespread, many East Europeans are enthusiastic about Gypsy music and dance, which they embrace as part of the region's cultural heritage.
That explains why the Roma musicians and a dancer who had briefly joined Madonna onstage got enthusiastic applause. And it also may explain why some in the crowd turned on Madonna when she paused during the two-hour show — a stop on her worldwide "Sticky and Sweet" tour — to touch on their plight.
A few cheered when she added: "We don't believe in discrimination ... we believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone." But she got more boos when she mentioned discrimination against homosexuals and others.
Madonna did not react and carried on with her concert, held near the hulking palace of the late communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Her publicist, Liz Rosenberg, said Madonna and other had told her there were cheers as well as jeers.