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NOVA GORICA, Slovenia/SAINT-DENIS, France, (Reuters) - The most celebrated resident of Nova Gorica in Slovenia is long-dead French King Charles X, but now townsfolk worry they may lose him to a movement for the repatriation of his remains.
Last month, a French historical lobby group called for the remains to be taken from Nova Gorica's monastery back to France. The monarch, who died in exile in 1836, is the only French king not buried in his homeland.
Slovenia has not reacted officially, but the mayor and locals insist Charles X must remain at Kostanjevica, a Franciscan monastery perched atop a picturesque hill on the outskirts of the town, where he chose to be interred.
"The king has been buried here for 180 years and is a part of our heritage," Mayor Matej Arcon told Reuters.
But the French Association for the Return of Charles X strongly disagrees, and wants the exiled monarch to rejoin his family slumbering in the Bourbon crypt of the Saint-Denis basilica near Paris.
"We want to gather the family in this Bourbon crypt where Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVIII already are. There has been a place waiting for Charles X for two centuries," said Philippe Delorme, the association's honorary president.
Charles X was king for six years until a revolution ended his rule in 1830 and drove him into exile.
Thereafter he lived from city to city across Europe before moving in 1836 to Gorizia, then part of the Habsburg dynasty's Austrian Empire and now in Italy, fleeing a cholera epidemic raging in Prague at the time.
But Charles was too late. He fell ill within days and became the region's only cholera victim that year. From his deathbed he gazed up at the hilltop monastery and asked to be buried there.
"If it was his wish to be buried here it should be respected. Our town is proud of his tomb," said Ema Otrin, a retired teacher from Nova Gorica, which was built next to Gorizia on the Slovenian side of the border after World War Two.
Charles's heart was cut out and sent to France, in line with Habsburg tradition, but the then-revolutionary government refused it. It now lies in the coffin next to his other remains.
He shares the crypt at the end of a narrow white-painted corridor below the monastery church with his son, two grandchildren and some of their wives.
The six coffins, five carved from the grey marble of a regional quarry, are tended by the Franciscans without financial help from France. They attract about 10,000 visitors a year, from Slovenia and abroad.
Father Jernej, abbot at the monastery, said he expected media interest would bring more visitors. "We welcome them."
Reporting by Marja Novak and Tatiana Chadenat; editing by Thomas Escritt and Mark Heinrich