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Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption If found guilty, Joël Le Scouarnec (centre) faces up to 20 years in prison

A retired French surgeon has gone on trial accused of raping and sexually assaulting children.

Joël Le Scouarnec, 69, is charged with abusing his two nieces, a neighbour's daughter and a patient. But prosecutors suspect he may have abused as many as 349 children between 1989 and 2017.

He has admitted assault but denied the rape charges.

The trial in the south-western town of Saintes is the start of what could be France's biggest paedophilia scandal.

If found guilty, Mr Le Scouarnec faces up to 20 years in prison.

The trial is being held behind closed doors, following a plaintiff's request.

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Mr Le Scouarnec was arrested in 2017 after his neighbour's daughter had told her family about the alleged assault.

Investigators said they later searched his house, finding images of child abuse and a notebook detailing his sexual assaults.

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