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Last Updated: Monday, 11 December 2006, 12:06 GMT
Pope statue stirs French town row
Statue of Pope John Paul II in Ploermel, Brittany
Opponents allege public funds were used to put up the statue
A small town in Brittany has found itself at the centre of a row after erecting a huge bronze statue of Pope John Paul II in a central square.

The 8.75m-tall (29 ft) statue was presented to Ploermel by controversial Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli.

Speaking at its inauguration on Sunday, Ploermel's mayor said the monument marked "a giant of the 20th Century".

But opponents have gone to court saying the statue violates France's 1905 law on the separation of church and state.

They say the local authorities approved funding of 130,000 euros to put up the statue and hold the inauguration ceremony.

The mayor's office insists the statue was a gift to the town from the artist and that no public funds have been used.

Pope in prayer

The inauguration ceremony had originally been planned for 9 December, the anniversary of the signing of the 100-year-old law that founded modern French secularism.

Sculptor Zurab Tsereteli with his statue of Pope John Paul II in Ploermel, Brittany
Many of sculptor Zurab Tsereteli's works have proved contentious

But Ploermel's conservative Mayor Paul Anselin delayed it by a day in an effort to placate critics who saw the chosen date as a provocation.

Mr Anselin, who led the ceremony, described John Paul II as "a giant of the 20th Century who participated in the fall of the Iron Curtain".

About 1,000 people watched as the statue - which shows the late Pope standing in prayer beneath an arch topped by a cross - was unveiled, local police said.

However, the mayor's hopes that presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernadette Chirac, wife of French President Jacques Chirac, would be among the guests were disappointed, local media reported.

A small group of protesters demonstrated at the unveiling, while a meeting of the statue's opponents took place in a nearby town.

The group - which organised a protest by 500 people against the monument last month - said it would continue its battle in the courts.

Mr Anselin says Mr Tsereteli, who is president of the Russian academy of arts, attended the inauguration, as a personal friend.

Among the sculptor's better-known - and more contentious - works is a giant statue of Peter The Great that dominates the Moscow skyline. His statue of Diana, Princess of Wales, also stands in Moscow.

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