The house of a left-wing mayor in France, who supports a controversial plan to establish an asylum center in the small seaside town of Saint-Brevin-les-Pins, has been burned down in a suspected arson attack.
Police were called to the residence of Yannick Morez early on Wednesday morning after his home and two vehicles were destroyed in the blaze.
The left-wing mayor, who described the attack as “cowardly and unacceptable,” expressed his gratitude to neighbors for alerting him to the fire, which he said could have had “more dramatic consequences.”
An initial investigation suggested the fire was not accidental, and Sylvie Canovas-Lagarde, the prosecutor for Saint-Nazaire, confirmed a criminal inquiry was now underway after fire experts ruled the attack to be subject to the “intervention of third parties.”
Investigative sources cited by the Ouest France news outlet suggested the fire could have been started by a Molotov cocktail.
A number of public officials from across France expressed their solidarity with the mayor on Wednesday, including David Lisnard, president of the Association of Mayors of France, and Maurice Perrion, president of the Association of Mayors of Loire-Atlantique, who said the incident once again should alert “the public authorities to the urgency to really take into account the threats hanging over the elected representatives of the Republic.”
Local MP Julie Laernoes of the progressive ECO party said the attack “echoes the threats from the far right that (Mr. Morez) has been subjected to for months. We condemn these particularly despicable actions against the mayor and his municipal team.”
In recent weeks, Saint-Brevin-les-Pins has been deeply divided over a plan to establish an asylum center in the town, which has resulted in mass demonstrations by local residents both in support and against the proposal.
The mayor was a prominent voice in support of a plan to welcome more than 100 migrants to the town of 13,500 by the end of the year.
Last month, two large groups of protesters clashed in the town square. Supporters of the plan held banners in favor of mass immigration, stating, “There are no foreigners on this land,” and chanted against the far right.
Opponents to the plans held placards that read: “Yes to controlled immigration, no Mr. Macron, not just anyhow! Not anywhere!” They also chanted in favor of the nationalist Reconquête party founded by Éric Zemmour.
“I am against any increase in migration, and the state does not take the necessary means to prevent migrants from coming by land, by sea,” said 82-year-old protester Olivier.
“Our approach is not at all racist but aims, on the contrary, to show, both to the French and to migrants that immigration is harmful to them, as well as us,” explained Alain Escada, president of the traditionalist Catholic organization Civitas.