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Avignon arts festival to move if far-right takes town vote

Photo: AFP

France's longest-running annual arts festival has threatened to quit its home in the southern city of Avignon should the far-right National Front win the mayor's office, a day after the party topped the polls in the first round of local elections.

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The Festival d'Avignon has been held in the city each summer since 1947 and regularly attracts tens of thousands of spectators who come to see hundreds of performers from around the world.

But the festival’s director, Olivier Py, told France Info radio Monday that he would look for a new home for the event if the National Front (FN) comes out on top in the second round of the elections on March 30th.

"I cannot work with a National Front mayor's office. That is for me something unimaginable," he said.

Py said the founding principles of France's best-known arts festival were at odds with the anti-immigration, nationalist agenda of the FN.

"I cannot see how the festival could survive and defend its ideals which are those of openness and of welcoming others. I don't see how the festival could remain in Avignon," he said.

"Therefore I think we would leave. There is no other solution."

An FN list headed by mayoral candidate Philippe Lottiaux claimed 29.54 percent of votes cast in Avignon on Sunday, edging the Socialist Party's Cecile Helle by just 27 votes.

The two leaders will now take part in a run-off vote which will also feature candidates from the centre-right UMP party and the far-left Left Front, which claimed just under 21 percent and 12.5 percent of the first round votes, respectively.

The FN's showing reflected a strong performance nationwide and the party is expected to emerge from the second round in control of up to 15 towns – although Avignon is not considered amongst those most likely to fall to the party led by Marine le Pen.

The Avignon festival is held in July in the courtyard of the "Pope's Palace" and other historical venues in the city. Alongside the official festival, there are a number of fringe events and spectacles that draw huge crowds.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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