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The resignation of a French mayor targeted by the far-right over plans to relocate an asylum-seeker center sparked a political uproar on Thursday after he received death threats and had his home set on fire.
The resignation of Yannick Mares, the mayor of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins in western France, comes as support for the far-right swells and mainstream parties seek to channel anti-immigration sentiment in an increasingly tense political environment.
On Wednesday evening, Mahrez announced that he was resigning “for personal reasons” – complaining about the “lack of support from the state”.
President Emmanuel Macron called the attacks on him “outrageous” on Twitter and expressed “solidarity” with Mahrez and his family.
Les attaques contre Yannick Morez, mayor de Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, et contre sa famille, sont indignes. À cet élu de la République, à son épouse et ses enfants, je redis ma solidarité et celle de la Nation.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) May 11, 2023
Promises of better protection
“What happened is very shocking and I want to assure the mayor of my full support,” Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne said Thursday during a visit to the French Indian Ocean territory of La Reunion.
She added that she wanted to “better protect mayors … to intervene more quickly to support them, identify their difficulties and better support them.”
Saint-Brevin, a seaside town at the mouth of the Loire River near the western city of Nantes, has been gripped for months by protests against plans to move an existing shelter to a site close to a primary school.
The city has been hosting migrants since the so-called jungle camp near Calais on France’s northern coast was dismantled in 2016.
In March, Mahrez said that during the years they were in his city, there was “never the slightest problem” with asylum seekers.
Burning of the house
But in addition to repeated demonstrations organized by the far-right party Reconquete (Reconquest), led by former presidential candidate Eric Zemur, against the move, Mahrez’s home was the target of an arson attack on March 22, which is the subject of a criminal investigation.
The head of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, wrote on Twitter that “it is a shame that the state did not realize the scale of what is happening to him and did not support him. It is shameful to continue to normalize the far right.”
MPs from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Unity (RN) did not join other lawmakers in paying tribute to Mahrez after his resignation on Wednesday.
The renamed former National Front, whose policies are still largely focused on hostility to Islam and immigration, is riding high in the polls.
Recent polls show that her front-runner, Le Pen, would beat Macron if the second round of last year’s election were repeated today.
Meanwhile, Macron’s ministers are battling with the conservative Republican Party to push new immigration bills through France’s lower house of the National Assembly, where no party has a majority.