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Uproar over Muslim pupil 'statistics'

FN mayor investigated over claims he ordered research into pupil's religious background - a breach of French law

FRENCH judicial authorities have begun an investigation into claims that a far-right mayor compiled stats on how many Muslim pupils were in local schools - a breach of France's law on secularism.

Robert Ménard, the Front National mayor of Béziers, gave a TV interview on Monday in which he claimed that 65% of schoolchildren in his town were Muslim.

He said his administration had used lists of pupils' names to guess their religious background, prompting controversy because it is illegal for data on people's religion or ethnicity to be collected.

Interior minister Bernard Caveneuve said the practice was a reminder of "the darkest hours of our history".

Prime minister Manuel Valls tweeted: "Shame on the mayor" and education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem called for an investigation, describing the remarks as "profoundly anti-Republican".

The town hall of Béziers has now denied that the data exists. A breach of the secularism law, which is part of France's penal code, is punishable by up to five years in prison and a €300,000 fine.

Prosecutors in Béziers are now looking at the case - and documents have been seized from the mairie as part of their inquiry.

Mr Ménard has raised a few eyebrows since becoming mayor of Béziers, with local policies including a ban on drying laundry in public, plans for a school uniform bearing the town's coat of arms, and a summer curfew for young people.

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