A French mayor's plan to erect a statue of President Nicolas Sarkozy's former supermodel wife Carla Bruni in worker's attire has angered the opposition and embarrassed the first lady.
Jacques Martin, the mayor of Nogent-sur-Marne to the east of Paris and member of Sarkozy's UMP party, commissioned the statue to honour the mostly Italian immigrant women who used to work at a feather factory in the town.
But when French daily Le Parisien on Sunday revealed the plan for the statue more than two metres (six-and-a-half feet) tall, at a cost of over 80,000 euros, the opposition and even the first lady's friends were up in arms.
A source close to Bruni-Sarkozy said she agreed to model for sculptor Elisabeth Cibot as she admires her work, but that "it was never suggested that her name would appear."
Modelling "is her former job, she no longer does it commercially, but she's often asked to do it, and she often agrees, and always without being paid," the source said.
But the swiftly gathering scandal "is using something that has nothing to do with politics to political ends," one of her friends said, requesting anonymity.
William Geib of the Socialist opposition said the idea of dressing up a likeness of the Italian heiress and pop singer as a worker was "grotesque."
"It's an insult to the Italian feather workers, to give them the face of an extremely rich person. I have nothing against Carla Bruni-Sarkozy but she does not represent the workers' world."
Michel Gilles, a local member of the right-wing opposition, slammed what he said was a "political coup" ahead of the April-May two-round presidential election, which opinion polls say right-wing leader Sarkozy is likely to lose.
Martin said he voted in favour of the statue at a council meeting last year.
"But it was never mentioned that it would have Carla Bruni-Sarkozy's features," Gilles said.
The statue is reportedly costing 82,000 euros (108,000 dollars), of which the town hall is paying 41,000 euros, and exactly what it will look like is being kept top secret.
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