The French parliament erupted in an uproar Tuesday after a lawmaker accused the interior minister of flirting with Nazi ideology.
Socialist lawmaker Serge Letchimy from Martinique questioned Interior Minister Claude Gueant about his comments that some civilizations _ notably France's _ are worth more than others.
Gueant's remarks, which have caused a firestorm, had been widely seen as a putdown of Muslims. Opposition Socialists have called the comments an attempt by President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservatives to woo far-right votes ahead of the two-round presidential election in April and May.
Tuesday's session of government questions had to be suspended after lawmakers from Sarkozy's conservative UMP party began walking out in a noisy protest.
Letchimy said Gueant is "day by day leading us back to these European ideologies that gave birth to concentration camps."
After a loud protests interrupted him, he added: "Mr. Gueant, the Nazi regime, which was so concerned about purity, was that a civilization?"
Speaking to reporters later, Letchimy said "as the son of a slave, I cannot accept this kind of phrase" like the one used by Gueant.
Letchimy said he wanted to "sound an alarm" over this kind of "negation."
Conservative Prime Minister Francois Fillon, in a statement, called Letchimy's comment "an indecent provocation" that "brings shame on those who make it." Fillon, a member of Sarkozy's UMP party, urged the leaders of the Socialist opposition party to condemn Letchimy's statement.
Gueant himself is no stranger to controversy, having once said that French people "sometimes have the feeling of no longer being in their own home" in a discussion about immigration.
Gueant insisted Monday that his weekend comments to a right-wing youth organization on the hierarchy of civilizations were merely "good sense."
Critics saw the comments as at best, misguided and cynical and, at worst, xenophobic.
Sarkozy defended Gueant in a televised interview Monday, brushing aside the outrage as "a ridiculous argument."
Socialist Francois Hollande is the leading candidate in polls about the presidential race. Sarkozy has not yet confirmed he is running, but is widely expected to.