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French anti-migrant wall demolished after project scaled back

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Toulouse (France) (AFP)

French protesters who built a wall blocking access to a future migrant centre tore it down on Wednesday after the shelter's operator agreed to slow the pace of arrivals.

The two-day-old wall, which measured 18 metres (60 feet) long and 1.8 metres high, had divided residents in the southwestern town of Semeac.

Some dubbed it a "wall of shame" while others argued it was the only way to force the authorities into negotiations on transforming a former budget hotel into a migrant shelter.

"This morning we tore it down," Laurent Teixeira, a spokesman for the group behind the protest, told AFP.

"We made proposals which were accepted by Adoma (the centre's state-run operator). We're satisfied," he added.

The group had accused the authorities of failing to consult residents about accommodating up to 85 migrants in the disused Formule 1 hotel and expressed fear that schools in the town of 5,000 inhabitants would struggle to cope.

Teixeira said the shelter's managers had agreed to limit its first intake next month to "five or six families, or 25 to 30 people" and to ensure adequate staffing.

The situation would be reviewed after two months, he added.

While admitting that the wall was "a very shocking symbol" Teixeira defended it as forcing the authorities into a deal which he said would facilitate integration of the newcomers.

"We're not anti-migrant," he insisted.

Leftist politicians and trade unions had, however, sharply condemned the barrier.

"Wall of shame destroyed in Semeac this morning. The prejudice wall remains to be toppled. Solidarity with migrants!" Marie-Pierre Vieu, a Communist member of the European Parliament representing the south-west region, tweeted.

The building in Semeac is one of 62 budget hotels bought by the state to house some of the asylum-seekers currently sleeping rough on the streets of Paris or the northern port of Calais.

With the pace of migrant arrivals expected to accelerate this summer, the government has come under pressure to create more shelters.

Last year, several French towns saw protests over the establishment of migrant shelters but in most places the protests died down after the migrants moved in.

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