Furore in the French parliament as MPs from the ruling centre-right party walked out in protest after an opposition member appeared to compare the interior minister’s stance to that of the Nazis.
Serge Letchimy, a socialist ally representing Martinique, attacked Claude Gueant over his comments that not all civilisations were equal.
He accused him of implying that some were superior, a negation of humanity’s richness.
“Mr Gueant, you are dragging us back to the days of those European ideologies which gave birth to the concentration camps. Mr Gueant, the Nazi regime – so worried about purification – was that a civilisation?” said Letchimy.
The row comes amid heightened pre-election tension. Claude Gueant has been accused of trying to woo potential far-right voters with its hardline on immigration and Muslim issues.
Later on French television the socialist presidential candidate for the Elysee Francois Hollande refused to condemn his colleague.
“What I disapprove of is this useless controversy. It’s these wounding divisions, it’s this strife… do you realise an interior minister who should be putting the country in order, that’s his peaceful mission, has just fanned the flames of division and discord, that’s enough!” said Francois Hollande.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who employed Gueant as a close aide before making him interior minister, trails his socialist rival by eight points according to one poll this week.
With the National Front leader Marine Le Pen running a close third, those right wing votes could be decisive in April’s election.