Suspect in Nantes cathedral fire held over French priest's killing

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French police walk where a French catholic priest was killed in Saint-Laurent-sur-SevresImage source, Getty Images
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The priest's body was found in Saint-Laurent-sur-Sevres, a small village in western France

A Rwandan man has been arrested on suspicion of killing a Roman Catholic priest in western France.

The body of Olivier Maire was found in the village of Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in the Vendée area on Monday morning.

The unnamed suspect, a failed asylum seeker housed by the priest, turned himself in and confessed, reports say.

The 40-year-old man is also suspected of starting a fire that seriously damaged the cathedral in nearby Nantes in July last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron praised the "generosity" of Fr Maire and said his thoughts were with all Catholics in France.

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Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin echoed those sentiments and visited the area later in the day.

The killing has sparked political debate about why the suspect was still in France.

On Twitter Mr Darmanin criticised a post by far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who asked why the man suspected over the Nantes fire had not been deported.

Mr Darmanin said that although the asylum request had been rejected, the suspect could not be expelled while being investigated on charges of arson.

Image source, Getty Images
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French reports say the suspect was involved in the fire at Nantes cathedral in July 2020

The suspect, who worked as a volunteer warden at the cathedral, was charged after reportedly admitting to starting the fire.

He was detained until May this year and later transferred to a psychiatric hospital. Fr Maire, 60, had been welcoming the man into his church for several months, French media say.

Sister Dorothee Harushinana told Reuters news agency that the priest "close to the people. You could always call on him."

Last year's fire destroyed stained glass windows and the grand organ in the cathedral. It came months after the devastating 2019 fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

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The blaze destroyed stained glass windows and the grand organ

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