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Talk of the town: French mayor's 'laboratory of the far right' | World news | The Guardian

In the bullring of Béziers, with 8,000 people crammed into the stands and fanning themselves in the heat, an extraordinary spectacle began. France's most controversial mayor, glancing up at the adoring crowds, solemnly paraded around the ring in an elaborate holy procession following an effigy of the Virgin Mary and a dozen horse riders in flamenco dresses watched over by priests. It was, he said, about reaffirming France's Christian roots.

The vast, town hall-sponsored, public Catholic mass is unheard of in fiercely secular modern France, which has strict laws on the separation of church and state. It caused outrage on the left, which has accused the mayor of turning this picturesque but poverty-stricken Mediterranean town into an increasingly polarised "laboratory of the far right".

Robert Ménard, 62, was once best known as the outspoken founder of the international journalists' group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which he headed for nearly 25 years before becoming a TV current affairs star. When younger, he held memberships to the Communist Revolutionary League then the Socialist party. But since his shock election in Béziers last year on a far-right ticket, he has become the focal point of a raging debate in France about anti-immigration feeling, diversity and stigmatisation.

...Ménard's view is that immigration is France's real problem. "Our immigration has to stop," he said.

Although elected with the official support of Marine Le Pen and the far-right Front National, he has deliberately stayed outside the party. This leaves him free "to say what I want when I want". But he is an important figure to the Front National. Last year Le Pen's party gained a record 11 mayors across France, but Béziers, with a population of more than 71,000, is by far the biggest town run by a Front National-aligned mayor.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Sep 1st, 2015 at 03:56:09 PM EST

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