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The New Arab

Paris politicians march to stop Muslim street prayers

Mayor Remi Muzeau led over 100 protesters through the streets of Clichy-la-Garenne [AP]

Date of publication: 11 November, 2017

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Tensions flared in a Paris suburb when local politicians marched to protest against Muslim street prayers.

Local officials and residents of a French suburb took to the streets on Friday to block Muslims from praying in the street, amid an ongoing dispute about a shortage of mosques in France.

Marching under a large banner reading "Stop Illegal Street Prayers," Mayor Remi Muzeau led more than 100 demonstrators through the streets of Clichy-la-Garenne to protest against the use of the town's market square for weekly Friday prayers.

"We'll do it every Friday if necessary," said Muzeau.

"I must assure the tranquility and freedom of the people in my city," he said. "We must not allow this to happen in our country. Our country, the French Republic is tarnished."

Local Muslims have been praying in the square every Friday for months in protest over the closure of a prayer room.

A few dozen worshippers tried to pray anyway but sought to avoid confrontation with the protesters and retreated to a less visible spot. But the demonstrators squeezed them toward a wooden wall.

While the confrontation remained largely peaceful, the two groups competed in chanting slogans. The worshippers, who numbered a few dozen, chanted "God is great" in Arabic, while the demonstrators loudly sang the French national anthem. Some of the protesters were seen waving French flags and crucifixes.

Amid pushing and shoving, a banner the worshippers were carrying reading "United for a Grand Mosque of Clichy" was torn down.

Dozens of worshippers turned up
to pray in the market square [AP]

The rival groups were then seperated by police who formed a human barricade. 

As the protest drew to a close, Mayor Muzeau vowed that the protest would come back next week. The worshippers, who clapped in celebration after completing their prayers, also vowed to return.

Hamid Kazed, president of the Union of Muslim Associations of Clichy, who led the prayers, said, "We are going to continue until there's a dialogue for a definitive venue."

"That's what they want. To divide the citizens," he said. "We are not fundamentalists. We are for Islam of France."

Although Islam has long been second religion, the country has a chronic shortage of mosques for its estimated 5 million Muslims. This has led to Muslims in several towns resorting to praying in the streets, fueling the anti-immigrant sentiment of far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen.

Clichy Muslims had been renting a prayer hall from City Hall. But the town's mayor decided to turn that space into a library for the town's 60,000 residents, and the prayer hall was shut down in March following a court battle.

City Hall says Muslims can worship at a new Islamic cultural and prayer center, already used by hundreds, that the town inaugurated last year. However some Muslims say the new facility is too small, remote and doesn't meet safety standards.

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