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Maria Francesca died on Christmas Day after a life of only two months and 10 days. She was taken ill in her parents’ makeshift shack in a Roma camp south of Paris and died in hospital a few hours later.

Although her brief life was obscure, she has become a celebrated, political symbol in death. The infant will be buried in a southern Paris suburbs on Monday after an unseemly row over her grave, which has posed awkward questions about the rightward drift of politics in France.

The centre-right mayor of the small suburban town where Maria Francesca lived allegedly refused permission last week for the little girl to be buried in his municipal cemetery. He was quoted as saying that places were limited – and reserved for local tax-payers.

His attitude produced an explosion of anger among human-rights groups and left-wing – and some centre-right – politicians in France. They suggested that the mayor’s decision was, consciously or unconsciously, shaped by the “racism” and “prejudice” that has seeped into mainstream French politics from the far right in recent years.

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