Far-right French mayor sets up volunteer force

The far-right mayor of a town in France is to recruit a volunteer force to patrol the streets and help boost security while France remains in a national state of emergency.

Far-right French mayor sets up volunteer force
The outspoken and controversial Robert Menard. Photo: AFP

A controversial French mayor said on Tuesday he was setting up a volunteer force to patrol his town while the national state of emergency remains in force following the attacks on Paris.

Robert Menard, who has been accused of turning Beziers in the southwest into a “laboratory of the far-right”, urged former soldiers and police officers to join his “Beziers Guard”.

“France is living through difficult times and it is in that context that I asked myself how we could reinforce security and help the local and national police,” Menard told reporters.

Local police union leader Bruno Bartocetti said it was “worrying that volunteers were being put into uniform… Even if this is an exceptional situation, we should let the professionals do their work.

“It proves that Robert Menard does not have enough men on the ground while he boasts about the efficiency of his police,” he added, in a reference to posters of 7.65-calibre handguns the mayor put up across the town earlier this year reading “Police officers have a new friend.”

The poster appealing for volunteers to patrol the streets during the state of emergency, introduced after the jihadist attacks on Paris last month, features the town's cathedral of Saint-Nazaire.

Last week Menard, the outspoken founder of the international journalists' group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who is close to the far-right National Front (FN), demanded that the town's mosques sign a charter to only preach in French.

(Menard pays a visit to some refugees in Beziers to lay down the rules. AFP)

Kebab shop ban

Menard has previously blocked new kebab shops in Beziers' historic centre.

The mayor, who said the first patrols would begin Thursday, has already imposed an 11:00pm curfew on minors in the picturesque but poverty-stricken town and also banned washing being hung from balconies.

His call for recruits set off a storm on social networks with several Twitter users volunteering – mostly tongue-in-cheek – to join.

One, Karim Boukercha, joked: “I did my national citizen's service and judo in third class, can I join your militia?”

Another, Gilles Gautheron, tweeted, “My grandfather was a member of the militia under Vichy, can I come with his uniform?”

Militia is a highly charged term in France which evokes memories of the Nazi Occupation during World War II, when the collaborationist Vichy regime armed its supporters to fight the French Resistance.

The French government imposed a three-month state of emergency following the attacks on Paris. The measures include bans on public demonstrations.


Far-right mayor refuses to remove nativity scene

A far-right French mayor, supported by the National Front, is sticking to his guns by refusing to take down the Christmas crib in the town hall, despite being warned it’s against the country’s principle of secularism.

Far-right mayor refuses to remove nativity scene
A far-right mayor has been told to remove Baby Jesus from the Town Hall. Photo: Marco/Flickr

Robert Ménard, who is in charge of Beziers, installed the nativity scene, a traditional feature of a Christian Christmas in the hall of the building, despite opposition from other political groups.

No sooner was it installed than Menard received a letter from the prefecture warning him that it was against France’s principal of secularism (laïcité), the strict separation of the state from all things religious.

But Ménard is refusing to budge.

“I installed this nativity scene as part of the overall cultural policy of the city’s New Year celebrations,” he said, adding that he had sent a letter to the prefecture.

It is the second row in a week over whether Baby Jesus and co. should be allowed in state buildings.

The Local reported how the local council for the department of the Vendée, a traditionally Catholic region of France, had also been ordered by a court to remove the nativity scene because it undermined the neutrality of public service.

That sparked an angry row with the council promising to appeal the decision in time for Christmas.

“A nativity scene is a religious symbol, representing a specific religion,” said Jean Regourd, President of the Free Thinking Association of France’s Vendée department, the organization that had complained about the crib.  

“In theory it doesn’t respect the law of neutrality of public buildings nor of the State, and it doesn’t respect the freedom of conscience of a citizen who sees a religious emblem imposed on them when going into Vendée’s departmental council," he said.

But the president of the General Council of the Vendée Bruno Retailleau hit back.

“Respecting secularism doesn’t mean abandoning all our traditions and cultural heritage,” he said.

“Should we also ban the Christmas stars hanging on our streets right now, under the pretext that a religious symbol will tarnish public space?”