French general faces court over banned anti-Islam rally
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A French court on Monday postponed the trial of General Christian Piquemal, a former commander of the French Foreign Legion, who was arrested in Calais for attending a banned rally in support of the Islamophobic Pegida movement.
Piquemal, 75, was among a dozen people who were taken into custody on Saturday after clashes between police and supporters of the far-right group, which is based in Germany.
Around 150 people had gathered in central Calais carrying signs such as "This is our home", waving the French flag and singing the French national anthem as part of a Europe-wide initiative in support of Pegida.
Police issued warnings for the demonstration to disperse and then fired tear gas to break it up.
The retired general was described as having a “leading role” in the event. He was due in court on Monday in nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer to answer charges of “involvement in a gathering that did not disperse after warning”, but the local prosecutor said the trial was adjourned for health reasons.
The prosecutor said the trial of four other people, who were charged with carrying unlicensed arms, including a taser gun and knuckle dusters, would go ahead as scheduled. Piquemal’s trial was set for May 12.
The general’s arrest was widely commented on social media, prompting a flurry of protests by far-right politicians who slammed the detention of a “patriot”.
Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of National Front leader Marine Le Pen, tweeted: “Support for General #Piquemal, brutally and unfairly arrested in #Calais!”
Piquemal was in charge of the French Foreign Legion between 1994 and 1999. He also worked as deputy chief of the military office for three Socialist prime ministers during the 1980s and 90s.
Prior to the rally, he wrote on a far-right website of the need to “defend the grandeur and identity of France, [which is] under threat in Calais”.
State of emergency
Calais has become a hotspot of Europe's refugee crisis. Around 3,700 migrants are living in a camp on the outskirts of the city, nicknamed the "Jungle", hoping to smuggle themselves across the Channel to Britain on lorries or trains.
Ahead of the protest, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called on authorities in Calais to prevent all demonstrations "regardless of the organisers".
He said the ban particularly covered "all these groups that create tensions, division and violence" and would last as long as necessary.
French authorities have banned a number of rallies since the start of a state of emergency, which was proclaimed in the wake of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris and is expected to be extended.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)