Manuel Valls, France's interior minister, has denied claims he ordered the police to clear his Paris neighbourhood of tramps and gipsies so his wife could "shop in peace".
Manuel Valls, known in France as the country's "number one cop", is reported to have personally ordered officers to display "zero tolerance" to the homeless found on the pavements of the trendy district around the revolutionary Right Bank Place de la Bastille where he lives.
For years, local tramps have frequented the rue de la Roquette near the Bastille opera and a stone's throw from Mr Valls' residence. The district is also a magnet for tourists and young Parisians who spill out of its myriad bars and cheap restaurants every night.
According to Le Canard Enchaîné, the satirical and investigative weekly, when disgruntled down-and-outs demanded to know what was behind the sudden police zeal, they were told: "It's on the interior minister's orders."
According to the weekly, Mr Valls, 50, ordered the cleanup at the request of his glamorous wife Anne Gravoin, 46, a classically trained violinist who regularly plays with veteran French rocker Johnny Hallyday and other Gallic stars.
She is said to have complained to him of being accosted by one inebriated tramp asking for money while on a shopping trip to the local Franprix supermarket.
The result has reportedly been a sudden influx of blue uniforms in front of the said store and "zero tolerance" to the presence of tramps or gipsies in its vicinity.
"Two weeks ago, several (officers) started by turning up outside the store entrance. Since then, they go back and forward moving people on all day," Franprix management told Le Canard.
The local state "immigration and integration" office, situated opposite the store, said homeless were "moved off to neighbouring streets" before traipsing back.
"I've never seen anything like it," said one tramp after spending time in the local police station. "They told me they'd be back above all around 4pm and 8pm."
On Wednesday, Mr Valls said he "categorically" denied he was behind the police clean-up operation, saying the claims were "unfounded".
Paris' police headquarters said the more aggressive approach was in response to complaints by local Right-wing politicians and petitions by local residents over the past three months calling for action.
But local police reportedly claimed the minister's wife had a hand in the changes. "It's because Mme Valls was very shocked by women begging with their babies. It was a humanitarian response," one told the paper.
This is not the first reported case of a French politician allegedly calling on the police to please his wife. Charles de Gaulle is said to have had the chic Place de la Madelaine cleared of prostitutes when his famously conservative wife Yvonne paid a visit to food stores Fauchon or Hédiart.
Mr Valls' tough stance on fighting crime and illegal gipsy camps has seen the Socialist likened to Nicolas Sarkozy, one of his Right-wing predecessors at the interior ministry. He is currently the most popular politician in France, with a 75 per cent approval rate, according to Ifop.
His straight-talking spouse is no stranger to controversy. In August, she sparked outrage by mocking prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault's wife Brigitte, remarking: "It has to be said that a musician is a little more glamorous than Mrs Ayrault, a German teacher from the suburbs of Nantes!".
She is said to regularly accompany first lady Valérie Trierweile "to choose dresses and outfits in the capital's top fashion stores."
Wednesday, 24 October 2012