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French stamp inspired by topless feminist causes stir

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    French President Francois Hollande (R) unveils the new stamp featuring Marianne, symbol of the French republic, at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2013. The new stamp emblazoned with the face of Marianne has caused a stir after its creator said it was inspired by a Ukrainian feminist known for topless protests. (POOL/AFP)

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    French President Francois Hollande walks past the new stamp featuring Marianne, the symbol of the French republic, after unveiling it at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2013. The new stamp emblazoned with the face of Marianne has caused a stir after its creator said it was inspired by a Ukrainian feminist known for topless protests. (POOL/AFP)

A new stamp emblazoned with the face of Marianne, France's revolutionary symbol, has caused a stir after its creator said it was inspired by a Ukrainian feminist known for topless protests.

The stamp, unveiled by President Francois Hollande on Sunday's national day, shows the face of a youthful, dewy-eyed Marianne from the shoulders up, her long hair flowing down and her hand raised.

"For all those who ask who the model was for Marianne, it's a mix of several women, but particularly Inna Shevchenko," Olivier Ciappa, one of the stamp's designers, said on his Twitter account.

The 23-year-old Shevchenko, a Ukrainian who has been granted political asylum in France, is the leader of the French branch of Femen, a self-declared "radical feminist" group known for its topless protests against sexual exploitation of women, sexism and religious institutions.

Speaking to AFP on Monday after his Twitter comment caused a stir among France's conservatives -- with the right-wing Christian Democratic Party calling for a boycott of the new stamp -- Ciappa reiterated that the Marianne portrait was inspired by "a mix of real people".

Aside from Shevchenko, he also pointed to actress Marion Cotillard and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira as sources of inspiration for the stamp, which was co-designed by artist David Kawena.

"For me, Marianne, who is represented bare-breasted, would probably have been a Femen in 1789 (the French revolution) because she fought for the Republic's values -- liberty, equality and fraternity," Ciappa said.

"Inna is the only one among those who inspired me who is not French."

Among critics, the "French Spring", a grouping of gay marriage opponents, hit out at what it called the "new Marianne".

"Are there not enough beautiful and emblematic women in France that we have to import our models from Ukraine?" it lamented on Twitter.

Shevchenko, who came to France last August, told AFP she had been unaware she was an inspiration for the stamp.

"France always recognised women fighting... (It) is a symbol for all the world," said the activist, who fears persecution in Ukraine after sawing down a wooden cross in Kiev, in a stunt intended to support Russian band Pussy Riot.

"Now all homophobes, extremists, fascists will have to lick my ass when they want to send a letter," she added with typical provocation on her Twitter account.

Marianne was not a real person but has become a symbol of the French revolution and of freedom, providing inspiration for countless statues, sculptures and paintings.

Wearing a bonnet and always bare-breasted, she has also been a fixture of French stamps for decades, and artists are regularly asked to design new versions of the revolutionary symbol.

She is perhaps best known as the woman waving a French flag in Eugene Delacroix's famous painting "Liberty Leading the People."

Founded in Ukraine in 2008, Femen's protests have sparked widespread controversy, including in Tunisia where three European women were jailed for baring their breasts in public during a protest in support of a detained Tunisian Femen activist. They were released after apologising.

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