7 Jan 2012

Joan of Arc becoming election focus

8:34 am on 7 January 2012

France's patron saint Joan of Arc has become a focus of the presidential election campaign in April.

President Nicolas Sarkozy visited the village of Domremy in eastern France on Friday to commemorate the 600th anniversary of her birth.

Mr Sarkozy unveiled a plaque in the house where she is said to have been born.

But Deutsche Welle Radio reports the visit clashed with similar plans by National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Her party will hold a rally at the base of a statue of Joan of Arc in central Paris on Saturday.

The FN has long hailed Joan of Arc for the way she kicked out the English in 15th century France. The party organizes a parade in her honor every year on 1 May.

She claimed on Friday that Mr Sarkozy was playing catch-up in the campaign.

"Joan of Arc belongs to all the French," Ms Le Pen told France 2 Television.

A teenage peasant who led the French army against the English, Joan became a 15th century Catholic martyr after being burned at the stake.

Deutsche Welle Radio reports she has served as an inspiration for patriotic Frenchmen and women ever since. She become a symbol of the populist right in recent years.