A far-right French mayor has sparked controversy with a tweet slamming Muslims who symbolically "protected" churches from terror attacks on Christmas day as "arsonists protecting against fires". Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has responded by declaring his "respect" for the initiative and an anti-racist group is threatening legal action.

"Respect for the Muslims who protected churches at Christmas," Cazeneuve tweeted Saturday. "Harmony and fraternity in the republic."

He was responding to Twitter messages by Robert Ménard, the controversial mayor of the southern French town of Béziers who was elected with the support of Marine Le Pen's Front National.

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