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Why is this flag at the centre of a fracas?

The Local, May 24

This particular French flag has become the centre of an escalating row between a mayor, residents, the far-right and the local prefecture. But why is the flag so controversial?

It all started when Guy Marty the socialist mayor of Sainte-Terre in the south west department of Gironde took offence over one of the town's residents flying the flag from his balcony.

The flag is the usual French red, white and blue tricolor along with the Lorraine cross in the centre and is known as the "Free France" (France Libre) flag.

The mayor was angered by the presence of the flag which he believed could be interpreted to mean "France for the French", in other words not for immigrants.

He wrote to the flag's owner, Christophe Roux, on May 7th, asking him to remove the flag from the "public place". But the resident refused.

So the row which some French reports claim has divided the community was taken to the local authority, the prefecture in Gironde, who came down on the side of Roux rather than the mayor, saying that there were no laws to prevent him flying the flag if he wanted to.

"After examination, the prefecture confirms that there are no enforceable rules in this area and that an individual can erect on a building belonging to him the national emblem, provided that it does not affect safety," the authorities said.

So how did this particular flag become so controversial?

The flag originates from the "Free France" movement during World War II - the government-in-exile led by Charles de Gaulle that supported the Resistance and fought with the Allies after the fall of France.

In appearance, it looks like the French national flag with the addition of the cross of Lorraine in the white panel.

The Lorraine cross was the symbol of Joan of Arc and it was adopted by de Gaulle's Free French forces during Wold War II.

However just like the symbol of Joan of Arc herself, the cross has recently been reclaimed by parties on the right and the far-right in France and in his opposition to Roux flying the flag from his balcony the mayor called it "ostentatious" in a "peaceful" town.

"Imagine if everyone displayed their political or religious beliefs in this way. It's ugly," Marty told Ouest France. "Sainte-Terre is a peaceful village and I do not want anyone to stir up a hornet's nest," he added.

"With this flag, we could believe that this gentleman means to say 'France for the French!' Here, it's shocking, and not necessarily only to immigrants," Marty told Le Figaro, adding that several residents had been "stunned" by the incident.

But it wasn't just the local prefecture which disagreed with the mayor, with Marty receiving more than 150 emails in response to his row with Roux, some of which were threatening.

Meanwhile Roux, who is a member of the Eurosceptic Popular Republican Union party, not only refused to remove the flag but brought the incident to wider public attention, partly by creating a Facebook group called "Loving France and its flag is a crime?".

As a result, he received support from several politicians on the right, including former deputy of the far right National Front Florian Philippot who is now leader of his own eurosceptic party the Patriots.

Philppot made a video to back the Frenchman's right to fly the flag. So the row, just like the symbol itself has been commandeered by the right.

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