Page last updated at 08:56 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 09:56 UK

French minister denies race slur

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux
Mr Hortefeux recently spoke out against racism

French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has hit back at critics who say he made a racist remark when he met a political activist of Arab origin.

In a video clip broadcast on the internet Mr Hortefeux said: "We always need one. It's when there are lots of them that there are problems".

He was joking with a small group of activists from the ruling UMP party in south-west France on 5 September.

Mr Hortefeux says his comment referred to the number of photos being taken.


Immediately before Mr Hortefeux's controversial remark, one activist is heard saying: "Amin is a Catholic. He eats pork and drinks alcohol."

Mr Hortefeux then says: "He doesn't match the prototype. We always need one. It's when there are lots of them that there are problems."

The opposition Socialist Party called for his resignation, calling the comment "shameful and unspeakable".

Several groups representing ethnic minorities, including Cran and SOS Support for Illegal Immigrants, also protested over the remark.

Mr Hortefeux is a longstanding ally of President Nicolas Sarkozy and served as immigration minister from 2007 until early this year, overseeing deportations of illegal immigrants.

A statement from Mr Hortefeux's office denounced "a vain and ridiculous attempt to create a controversy" and said the minister had made no "reference to the supposed ethnic origin of the young activist".

His comment "referred to the number of photos that had already been taken with the Auvergne locals," his office said.

The activist himself defended the minister, in comments to the newspaper Le Monde.

"It's disgraceful. I am Arab but he completely respected me, it wasn't at all out of place. And I do not consider that it was a blunder," said the activist, who was not named.

President Sarkozy has included ministers from various ethnic backgrounds in his centre-right government.

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