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France removes EU flag from Arc de Triomphe after rightwing anger

French authorities have removed the European Union flag from the Arc de Triomphe after rightwing opponents of President Emmanuel Macron accused him of “erasing” French identity.

The giant blue flag was raised in place of the French flag on New Year’s Eve to mark France’s turn at the rotating presidency of the EU Council, which it will hold for the next six months.

The arch, a monument to war dead, and other landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Panthéon, are also being illuminated with blue lights for the remainder of this week.

But Macron’s rightwing rivals for presidential elections in spring seized on the removal of the tricolore flag, calling it an affront to France’s heritage and its veterans.

“Preside over Europe yes, erase French identity no,” tweeted Valérie Pécresse, the conservative candidate whom polls indicate could be the main challenger to Macron in the upcoming vote.

She urged him to restore the French flag, saying: “We owe it to our soldiers who spilled their blood for it.”

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who had vowed to file a complaint with the state council, France’s highest court for administrative matters, called the removal of the EU flag “a great patriotic victory,” claiming on Twitter that a “massive mobilisation” had forced Macron to backpedal.

But an official in the French presidency said on Sunday that the flag’s removal before dawn was in line with the planned schedule, insisting that unlike the blue lights for monuments, it was only supposed to be at the Arc for two days.

Europe minister Clément Beaune had accused the right on Saturday of “desperately chasing after the sterile controversies of the far right”.

The presidency official, who asked not to be named, could not say when the massive French flag would fly again under the Arc de Triomphe, but noted that it was not a permanent feature for the monument.

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