French right in tussle over Joan of Arc saint

Fri Jan 6, 2012 8:13am EST
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By Emmanuel Jarry

DOMREMY, France (Reuters) - Politics pushed its way into celebrations in France on Friday to mark the 600th anniversary of Joan of Arc's birth, as the far right accused the ruling conservatives of hijacking a national saint to win favour ahead of elections.

President Nicolas Sarkozy travelled to Joan of Arc's birthplace in the eastern town of Domremy to pay homage to the Catholic martyr who as a teenage girl led the French army to drive English invaders out of the city of Orleans in 1429.

The National Front, which likes to use Joan of Arc as its own nationalist symbol, accused Sarkozy of "manipulation" ahead of presidential elections in April and May as far-right leader Marine Le Pen prepared to make her own tribute speech on Saturday to one of France's patron saints.

The tug-of-war threatened to mar a street party on Friday evening, when dozens of torch-bearing revelers in mediaeval garb will parade through Orleans in memory of a victory that revived hope in a country torn apart by the Hundred Years' War.

"How can they pay tribute to someone who has defended the honor and sovereignty of France when in parallel they are organizing the enslavement of the French people to the financial markets and Brussels-dominated Europe," Le Pen said this week.

Sometimes known as the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc has become a powerful symbol of France for her fearless resolve in rallying French soldiers against the English and their allies and securing the coronation of Charles VII.

Credited with awakening a national consciousness, her legacy has taken on particular resonance ahead of this year's elections, as France battles to safeguard its triple-A credit rating and keep its economy afloat amid the euro crisis.

Sarkozy -- who is expected to run for a second term against Socialist Francois Hollande, who leads opinion polls, with Le Pen in third place -- will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday to push ahead with plans for a new European treaty as the bloc fights to save its single currency.   Continued...