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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
French guru crashes to earth
Statue of Guru Gilbert Boudin
A cult member scaled the statue to try to save it
French police have demolished a massive statue of a former guru and "cosmoplanetary messiah", ending an eight year legal battle over the effigy.

Statue of Gilbert Bourdin
The guru's statue fell to earth in the late afternoon
Security forces felled the 33 metre (107 feet) high statue of the cult founder and self-proclaimed messiah Gilbert Bourdin which has towered over the Alpine village of Castellane since 1990.

The statue, part of the Holy City of Mandarom Schambhasalem (Holy Mountain in Sanskrit), was built without planning permission and was, after lengthy legal contests, declared illegal in June 2000.

A small group of members of the Aumism movement, which Bourdin founded in 1969, watched and prayed as the statue crashed to the ground.

Complications

They continue to deny that the statue is illegal and say they are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

"For the moment we are praying because we are sick of human justice after all these years. It has to exist, I have no reason to protest about it, but now I am only expecting anything from divine justice," said spokeswoman Christine Amory.


In Afghanistan a religious regime attacked a religious minority. In France a secular republican regime is attacking a religious minority

Cult spokeswoman Christine Amory
Gendarmes arrived at the hilltop city early on Wednesday to begin the statue's destruction.

About 70 officers forced their way into the cult's compound after members refused to co-operate.

One devotee climbed up the statue and chained himself to it, and was later brought down by police.

Demolition was also delayed when technicians discovered that the iron reinforcements in the base of the statue were much tougher than they thought.

The work was made complicated because the statue is surrounded by temples and shrines, which were built legally and could not be damaged.

'Persecution'

Members of the sect, who will have to bear the FF 1m ($135,000) costs of the demolition, have compared the authorities' actions to the Taleban's destruction of ancient Buddha statues in Afghanistan.


They are people who appear outwardly calm, but they are intellectually dangerous

Local prosecutor Jean-Martin Jaegle
"In Afghanistan a religious regime attacked a religious minority. In France a secular republican regime is attacking a religious minority which upsets it," said Ms Amory.

However the local prosecutor, Jean-Martin Jaegle, accused the group of "brain-washing" members.

"They are people who appear outwardly calm, but they are intellectually dangerous," he said.

Resurrection

The Aumism movement was created by Bourdin as a synthesis of all religions to drive away "evil extra-terrestrial forces". Members chant "om" which they believe was the first word pronounced by God.

The group says it now has 25 devotees based at Castellane and 400 others worldwide.

The statue of Bourdin was the crowning piece of the colourful settlement of temples in the southern French alps, which has become an attraction for curious tourists.

Bourdin died in 1998 while still under investigation for rape, attempted rape and sexual assault.

His followers are said to believe he will one day be resurrected from a local grave.

France has begun a crackdown on cults following the mass suicides of members of the Solar Temple sect.

In May this year, parliament approved a law which will make it easier for the courts to shut down sects considered dangerous.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Watch the collapse of the statue

See also:

25 Jun 01 | Europe
Conductor cleared of cult deaths
22 Jun 00 | Europe
France moves to outlaw cults
18 Mar 00 | Africa
When devotion means death
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