Sarkozy tells far right Joan of Arc 'belongs to no party'
French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday marked 600 years since Joan of Arc's birth, saying the patron saint "belonged to no party" as he battles to reclaim her image from the far-right.
"As head of state, I had a duty to pay today, in the land of her birth, this solemn homage that France pays to those to whom it owes its freedom and greatness," Sarkozy said in a speech at Vaucouleurs in eastern France.
Joan of Arc passed through Vaucouleurs in 1429 on her way to the French royal court to lobby the monarch to join the fight against the English and the Burgundians during the Hundred Years War.
Sarkozy earlier visited Joan of Arc's birthplace at Domremy, on an as yet unofficial campaign for a hoped-for second mandate in April's presidential election in which the far-right National Front (FN) is expected to mount a strong challenge.
"Joan doesn't belong to any party, any faction, any clan," Sarkozy said, in a clear swipe at FN leader Marine Le Pen who will on Saturday pay her own homage to the 15th-century Catholic martyr at a rally of her party in Paris.
"May we continue to think of her (Joan) as the symbol of our unity and not leave her in the hands of those who would use her to divide. To divide in the name of Joan of Arc is to betray Joan of Arc's memory," he said.
The FN has sought to appropriate Joan of Arc, who has broad appeal among all French, partly for the perception that she "booted out" medieval English "immigrants", and organises a parade in her honour every May 1.
© 2012 AFP