France moves to block further anti-US demonstrations after up to 250 protest in Paris
FRANCE HAS pledged to prevent any further anti-US demonstrations after an unauthorised protest by up to 250 people in Paris prompted an official inquiry and angry political recriminations.
Police detained about 150 people who took part in the protest at the US embassy on Saturday and the authorities warned they would deal firmly with any attempt to stage similar events. The Paris protest was the first such demonstration in the West over an internet video mocking the Prophet Mohammad, which has set off a wave of protests around the world.
Although the majority of the demonstrators were penned in by police at the Tuileries Gardens as they made their way to the US embassy near Place de la Concorde, groups of youths and women in full veils reached the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and began praying on the street.
Face-covering veils are banned in public places in France, while the issue of Muslims praying on the streets has been a recurrent source of controversy in recent years.
Most of those arrested on Saturday were released after identity checks, but security at the embassy and other US-linked sites in France has been stepped up.
The incident escalated into a political row yesterday, with the opposition demanding to know how the authorities could not contain an Islamist march in the heart of the capital.
Former prime minister François Fillon, who is running for the leadership of the right-wing UMP, said he was surprised that such a protest could be held in such close proximity to the Élysée Palace and the interior ministry. He demanded an explanation from President François Hollande as to why the protest was “tolerated”.
This drew an angry response from the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, who said the protest was banned and that “the police did their job”.
National Front leader Marine Le Pen reacted angrily to the protest, describing it as a sign of a growing Islamist presence in France. “Tomorrow, it’s not 250 people who will march in Paris, but perhaps 100,000,” she said.
Ms Le Pen said the demonstration revealed weaknesses in the French intelligence services. “We should know every one of these people even before they put a foot on the major avenues of our capital,” she said, denouncing what she termed “a show of strength” by fundamentalists.
The government reacted to the criticism by ordering an inquiry to establish who organised Saturday’s march. “I have issued instructions so that this does not happen again,” the interior minister, Manuel Valls, told French television. “These protests are forbidden. Any incitement to hatred must be fought with the greatest firmness.”
Mr Valls said that among the roughly 250 protesters on Saturday there were some groups that “advocate radical Islam”, but they were not representative of the moderate Islam practised by most Muslims in France.
Mr Valls is due to bring details to cabinet soon on a package of measures aimed at fighting terrorism. He has indicated it will include a draft law that would allow France to try French citizens who “commit acts of terror in other countries or who go to train in terror camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border with the aim of returning to France”.