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France

Police to investigate allegedly racist tweets targeting Joan of Arc celebrations

media Current president and former French Economy and Industry Minister, Emmanuel Macron, looks on during the official tribute to Jeanne D'Arc (Joan of Arc) at the Johannique celebrations on May 8, 2016 in Orléans, Central France. GUILLAUME SOUVANT / AFP pool

A preliminary investigation has been opened in France over two tweets comparing a young métis woman to a monkey.

The woman - 17-year-old Mathilde Edey Gamassou - who has a father from Benin and a Polish mother, has been chosen to play the role of Joan of Arc at the next annual festivities celebrating the French national heroine in the town of Orléans, south of Paris.

Gamassou was chosen from around 250 candidates to be the 50th incarnation of the so-called 'Maid of Orléans' during the celebrations that are held in spring each year to celebrate the victory in April,1429, of French forces, led by Joan of Arc, over English forces who were besieging the town of Orléans.

However, the announcement last Monday that Gamassou had been chosen to play the French heroine this year, triggered a flood of insulting comments on social networks from supporters of the French far right.

Two tweets in particular caught the attention of the prosecutor of Orléans, who has informed the police. The police have launched an investigation to identify the authors of the tweets, which may transgress race hate laws in France.

The author of the first tweet compared the girl to a baboon, and the second, responding to the first, showed a picture of bananas. The authors of the tweets could face up to five years in prison, the local prosecutor said.

The French Secretary of State for Equality, Marlene Schiappa, Thursday, offered "all (her) support" to the high school student, saying that Joan of Arc does not belong to any one national identity.

"The racist hatred of the fachosphere has no place in the French Republic," she tweeted.

The 589th celebration of the lifting of the siege of Orléans during the 100 Years War will take place from April 28 to May 8. It will be marked, as always, by the ride in the city of the girl chosen to play the role of the liberator of the city, in armor and with a flag in hand.

On far-right websites, this choice of Gamassou has been denounced as an attempt to rewrite history.

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