Anti-homeless fences
Benches with 'anti-homeless' cages, next to the "Galerie du Champ-de-mars" shopping mall in Angouleme.AFP / Getty Images

A mayor in France has been criticised after metal cages were put over nine public benches on Christmas Eve, to discourage homeless people from loitering in the city centre.

Xavier Bonnefont, Angouleme's 34-year-old Right-wing mayor, has been accused of being anti-homeless and demonstrating a lack of compassion during the festive period, for authorising the extreme measure.

The action was allegedly taken after local traders complained to authorities that the area in the Champ de Mars square was the scene of regular fights between drunken tramps. The traders were concerned that the threatening behaviour was bad for business.

One stall owner who welcomed the measure, commented: "It's a good move to stop drunks disturbing public order."

Joel Guitton, deputy mayor in charge of security, also defended the move, saying the benches were "almost exclusively used by people who consume alcohol on a regular basis."

France24 reported that officials claimed the cages were designed to deter deviant and drunken behaviour and denied it was meant to discourage homeless people from sleeping there.

Critics of the stunt have taken to social media to express their disgust, describing the move as "inhumane" and "hostile. They have demanded that the cages are torn down with or without municipal consent.

"Next year the cages will be electrified," said one dismayed commentator on Twitter. "The council should be more sensitive to human misery," said another.

Many have posted memes of Tintin being confronted with the caged benches.

Alexandre Chemetoff, the urban architect who designed the square, slammed the move as "scandalous and inappropriate", telling Libération newspaper it was proof of "political failure" as it suggested the "only safe places left are private ones".

The mayor hastily ordered the cages to be "temporarily" removed around at around 22:30 on Christmas Day. He said they will be reinstated soon, only this time they will be filled with pebbles to reflect the square's "mineral aesthetics".

"I regret the works started on Christmas Eve," he conceded.

London Mayor Boris Johnson was dragged into a similar controversy earlier this year, after anti-homeless spikes were installed near the entrance of a luxury development in Southwark. Following the public outcry, the Conservative mayor intervened in the matter and demanded their removal.

He tweeted: "Spikes outside Southwark housing development to deter rough sleeping are ugly, self defeating & stupid. Developer should remove them ASAP."

A row of one-inch spikes were also removed from outside a Tesco Metro supermarket on Regent Street in central London earlier this year after activists protested against them. The company had claimed the studs were used to deter drinking and smoking.