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.