ST-TROPEZ, FRANCE -- The French resort that gave the world topless bathing is in a lather over official attempts to force nude bathers to cover up or face a small fine.

St-Tropez Mayor Alain Spada sought to cool down the summertime controversy, admitting he had taken off his swimming trunks in the past.

"I have already swum without trunks, especially for a midnight dip or in a creek. It's very nice," he said.

But the mayor of France's most prestigious resort -- made famous by its best-known resident, former movie sex symbol Brigitte Bardot -- said police were trying to crack down on exhibitionists flaunting themselves on family beaches.

Spada has been accused of puritanism since announcing this month that nude bathers would be fined $13 -- half the price of a cheap bikini -- if caught by police.

"It's not a question of declaring war against nudists," said Spada, adding that the municipal bylaw was aimed "purely at people whom we have been informed are practicing exhibitionists."

The bylaw did not seem to have put sun-worshipers off this week. Several nudists deliberately took their clothes off on the beach at St-Tropez to protest the coverup order.

Spada complained last summer that foreigners were wandering around the town virtually naked, and appealed to tourists at least to keep themselves covered in the streets.

Bardot, who made St-Tropez famous in the 1960s, threatened last year to leave the town, saying it was attracting the worst kind of tourists.

Foreign tourists have flooded the town and the surrounding region since the 1970s. Traffic comes to a standstill for most of the summer and the area is swamped with campsites.