Tensions as Paris suburb tries to stop Muslim street prayers

Clichy la Garenne's mayor Remi Muzueau, center left, leads the demonstration against Muslim street prayers, in the Paris suburb of Clichy la Garenne, on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Tensions as Paris suburb tries to stop Muslim street prayers

CLICHY-LA-GARENNE, France: Tensions erupted Friday as French officials and residents of a Paris suburb tried to block Muslims from praying in the street — a dispute that reflects nationwide problems with mosque shortages.
No one was hurt in the skirmishes in Clichy-la-Garenne, but both sides appeared to be digging in their heels in the dispute over prayer space in the town.
Carrying a large banner reading “Stop Illegal Street Prayers,” Mayor Remi Muzeau led more than 100 demonstrators Friday in a show of force to dissuade Muslims from praying on the town’s market square. Worshippers have been praying there every Friday for months to protest 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.
As worshippers chanted “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic, the larger group of demonstrators loudly sang the French national anthem. Some held French flags and a crucifix aloft.
Amid pushing and shoving, a banner the worshippers were carrying reading “United for a Grand Mosque of Clichy” was torn down.
Police with shields then formed a human barricade between the groups and Muslims eventually unrolled their rugs on the pavement, took off their shoes and held their prayers.
When the incident was over, the worshippers clapped, and the mayor pledged to come back again next week — as did the Muslim worshippers.
“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.”
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.”
The demonstrators were joined by the president of the Paris region, Valerie Pecresse, and officials and residents of other Paris suburbs
While Islam has long been France’s No. 2 religion, the country has a chronic shortage of mosques for its estimated 5 million Muslims. Muslims in several towns have resorted 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.


Armenian protest leader will only discuss PM's 'departure'

Updated 21 April 2018
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Armenian protest leader will only discuss PM's 'departure'

  • Demonstrators waved Armenian flags and blocked streets, disrupting traffic in the capital.
  • "The whole world can see this is a people's velvet revolution, which very soon will be victorious," Pashinyan said.
YEREVAN: Armenia's political crisis deepened Saturday on the ninth day of anti-government demonstrations, with protest leader Nikol Pashinyan insisting he would only discuss the exit of the country's newly elected prime minister.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to Republic Square in the capital Yerevan to protest against new premier Serzh Sarkissian's rule, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
"We are only ready to discuss the conditions of his departure," news agencies quoted Pashinyan as saying, rejecting Sarkissian's appeal for "political dialogue".
"Serzh Sarkissian doesn't understand the new situation that has emerged in the recent days... the Armenia and Yerevan he knows does not exist anymore," he told protestors.
Opposition supporters are angry over Sarkissian's efforts to remain in power, after he became prime minister last week, following a decade serving as president.
Demonstrators waved Armenian flags and blocked streets, disrupting traffic in the capital. Police said they made 84 arrests on Saturday afternoon, and more than 230 people were arrested on Friday.
Rallies were also planned in other cities such as Gyumri, Ararat and Artashat.
President Armen Sarkissian -- no relation to Serzh -- on Saturday afternoon met Pashinyan at the demonstration, an AFP journalist said.
Flanked by bodyguards President Sarkissian shook hands with the opposition leader and the pair spoke for around ten minutes.
Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian had earlier sought discussions with the protest leader.
"I am deeply concerned about the unfolding internal political events. In order to avoid irreversible consequences, I call on deputy Nikol Pashinyan to sit at the table of political dialogue and negotiation," the 63-year-old leader said in a statement.
At a 30,000 strong rally in Yerevan on Friday evening, Pashinyan laid out his demands for the authorities.
"First, Sarkissian resigns. Second, parliament elects a new prime minister that represents the people.
"Third, it forms a temporary government. Fourth, they schedule parliamentary elections. We will enter negotiations around these demands," he said, calling Serzh Sarkissian a "political corpse".
"The whole world can see this is a people's velvet revolution, which very soon will be victorious," Pashinyan told the rally.
Demonstrators on Saturday held up placards reading "Sarkissian is a dictator".
"I believe we will win this time because when the youth is on the street the police can do nothing," Hovik Haranyan, a 25-year-old protester blocking traffic, told AFP.
"Our generation has the right to live in a functioning country," he added.
Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.
A former military officer, Serzh Sarkissian has been in charge of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people for a decade.
Under a new parliamentary system of government, lawmakers elected Serzh Sarkissian as prime minister last week after he served a decade as president from 2008.
Constitutional amendments approved in 2015 have transferred power from the presidency to the premier.
After he was first elected in 2008, 10 people died and hundreds were injured in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.