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French PM calls for calm ahead of banned Gaza protest

© Sarah Le Duc - last Saturday's banned pro-Palestinian rally

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-26

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for calm late Friday as Paris braced for a pro-Palestinian demonstration Saturday, which organisers said would go ahead despite a controversial police ban.

The French government has come under fire for banning two previous pro-Palestinian rallies in Paris, one in the Barbès area in the north of Paris last Saturday and another in the suburb of Sarcelles. Despite the bans thousands of protesters turned out for the demonstrations – both of which erupted in clashes with police.

Visiting a Paris Mosque on Friday where he broke the fast with those observing Ramadan, Valls said the ban was justified – despite critics who said that banning the protest only serves to heighten protesters’ anger. 

Valls said “hooligans” had undermined the legitimacy of the protest movement, which is led by an assortment of far-left activists, a growing radical Islamic fringe, and those with a strong opposition to Israeli policies in the Palestinian Territories.

“When hooligans who misinterpret Islam take over these demonstrations, it is Muslims who are the victims. When radicals take the lead, it is the dignity of Islam and its values of tolerance and openness that are attacked.”

“I understand that people are angry, that’s perfectly legitimate and the right to protest is fundamental,” he added. “But nothing can justify violence and hatred between communities. Here in France our only aim must be reconciliation [between communities].”

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve backed Valls, saying, “I urge the organisers to abandon the event on Saturday."

Fury at ban

Vall’s visit to the mosque at Evry-Courcouronnes was criticised by pro-Palestinian groups as being “cynical and opportunistic” while protesters nearby shouted slogans such as “Zionists are fascists” and “Israel kills”.

One protester told reporters that the French government was, “openly siding with Israel”.

Organisers of this Saturday’s protest were outraged by the latest ban, adding to the mounting criticism of the Socialist government’s handling of the issue

"The government is trying to ban a fundamental right," Omar Alsoumi, a member of the Palestinian Youth Movement, told the AFP news agency.

A march that took place in Paris on Wednesday that was approved by the authorities passed largely without incident after organisers gave “security guarantees”, combined with a strong police presence.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2014-07-26

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