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Controversial politician dies

People saw Georges Frêche as either visionary or racist, often both, but they were rarely indifferent

CONTROVERSIAL former mayor of Montpellier Georges Frêche has died after a heart attack. He was 72.

Frêche, the president of Languedoc-Roussillon regional council, was notorious for his racist comments, but also for his vision, which allowed Montpellier to grow to become the eighth city in France.

Reactions to his death were mixed: some from his former Socialist Party recognised his charisma and his work building up Montpellier, while others look back to 2007 when he was thrown out of the party for making racist remarks.

In 2006, he said of the French football team: “There are nine blacks out of 11. The normal number would be three or four. This would reflect society [in France]. But if there are so many, it is because whites are lame. I'm ashamed for this country. Soon, there will be 11 blacks."

He was nonplussed at being expelled and, in a book this year, said: "The party has erected itself into a vehicle for universal values: anti-bigot, anti-alcoholic, anti-smoking, anti-racist, pro-homosexual, pro-black, pro-white, pro-yellow, pro-red, pro-Jewish, pro-Muslim, pro-orthodox, pro-Japanese, pro-garden gnome, anti-pitbull, anti-unhappiness, anti-anger, anti-vulgar..."

He also caused outrage by saying of former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius, who is Jewish: “He doesn’t have a very Catholic conk.”

More recently Frêche erected five statues in Montpellier’s new Odysseum district of the great men of the 20th century: Jean Jaures, De Gaulle, Roosevelt, Churchill and Lenin. He pulled back from including Stalin out of respect for those whom Stalin sent to the gulags.

Although he was dismissive of “little” Martine Aubry, the PS leader, she led the tributes to “a great visionary and builder whose name will live on forever in Montpellier and his region”.

Frêche was also dismissive of President Nicolas Sarkozy, describing him as "a little pansy wearing high heels". Mr Sarkozy has made no comment on his death.

Photo: Languedoc-Roussillon conseil regional

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