Court orders French Vichy leader portrait removed
A court Tuesday ordered a French mayor to take down a portrait of Philippe Petain, leader of France's wartime Vichy regime, from the wall of a town hall.
The portrait of Petain, branded an anti-semitic Nazi collaborator, hung in a municipal marriage chamber in Gonneville-sur-Mer, near the Normandy landing beaches used in World War II by Allied liberators.
The court overruled a decision by Bernard Hoye, the town's independent mayor, to keep the portrait which he said had been hanging there for years. It had nevertheless been taken down pending Tuesday's decision.
"The principle of neutrality in public services is opposed to putting up in public buildings signs expressing political, religious or philosophical opinions," the court in the nearby town of Caen said in a written judgement.
Petain, a military hero in World War I, became head of the rump state based at Vichy in central France which collaborated with the German Nazi occupiers in World War II and which oversaw the deportation of Jews to death camps.
After Germany's defeat he was tried by the provisional French government of General Charles de Gaulle, who commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment, and he died in 1951.
"The court has rejected the argument that the portrait of Philippe Petain was put up as part of a gallery of historic portraits of heads of state since 1871, because of the particular symbolic force that the portrait bears," the judgement said.
The local prefect had ordered it removed in response to a complaint by a French-based rights group, the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA).
Hoye did not immediately answer calls to comment on the decision. He told AFP when the case arose last year: "It has been there for decades," adding that he was "not a historian and did not have to take sides."
© 2010 AFP