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PARIS: French Interior Minister Claude Gueant, a hardliner close to President Nicolas Sarkozy, came under fire again on Saturday for the second time in a month for comments deemed racist by liberals.

At a meeting late on Friday in support of Sarkozy’s bid for a new term as president, Gueant condemned proposals by the president’s socialist opponent Francois Hollande to give the vote in local elections to immigrants.

“We don’t want foreign town councillors making halal food obligatory in canteen meals .... or regulating mixed bathing in swimming pools,” Gueant told an audience near Nancy in eastern France.

Hollande’s spokesman Manuel Valls on Saturday called the comments “nauseating”, while centrist candidate Francois Bayrou accused Gueant of scaremongering.

The immigrant aid group France Terre d’Asile condemned “the pathetic quest of a minister who forgets his official duties in the hope of adding the votes of a few extremists to his side.” —AFP

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