Excerpt:

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ousted adviser on diversity called the president's conservative party the "plague of Muslims" amid a growing furor over its plans to debate Islam's role in France.

Even Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a prominent member of the governing UMP party, is distancing himself from its debate next week on secularism and religion in France. Fillon said Thursday he won't take part.

Many of the debate's critics fear it could lead to the stigmatization of French Muslims. Its backers say it is needed to reaffirm France's secular traditions and address evolutions in French society — such as a growing demand for mosques and Islamic butchers — in a country with western Europe's largest Muslim population.


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