French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux has been caught on camera making what sound like anti-Arab remarks, infuriating anti-racism groups, even as he insisted Thursday that his words were innocent and misconstrued.
A video circulating on the Internet shows Hortefeux at an event last weekend in southwest France for the governing party UMP, having his picture taken with a young party member of North African origin. Voices in the primarily white crowd talk of "integration"; one woman says "he's our little Arab."
Hortefeux is heard saying "he doesn't fit the prototype at all." Then he says, "We always need one. When there's one, that's all right. It's when there a lot of them that there are problems."
Hortefeux's office released a statement saying the remark was a "reference to the very many pictures that he had just had taken" with local party members.
"Not a single word by Brice Hortefeux made reference to a supposed ethnic origin of a young activist," it said.