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.


EU is closer to new Iran sanctions ahead of Trump deadline, envoys say

Updated 19 April 2018
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EU is closer to new Iran sanctions ahead of Trump deadline, envoys say

BRUSSELS: European Union governments are showing more support for the idea of new sanctions on Iran proposed by Britain, France and Germany as a way of dissuading US President Donald Trump from pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal, diplomats say.
London, Paris and Berlin angered their EU partners in March when they tried to move quickly with a proposal to impose sanctions on 15 senior Iranian officials, military figures and companies, before a May 12 deadline set by Trump.
But assurances from US government officials that such sanctions could influence Trump, who has given Europe until next month to “fix” what he says is “the worst deal ever negotiated,” as well as a less confrontational approach by London, Paris and Berlin, appear to be winning other EU members over.
Diplomats also said EU governments were under more pressure to protest against Iran’s role in Syria’s civil war following an April 7 suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus which the West blames on Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“It’s not a ‘done deal’ but several states have dropped their resistance,” one diplomat said, citing Spain, Austria and Sweden which had recently joined a majority in favor.
Following meetings in Washington, Luxembourg and Brussels over the past week, Britain, France and Germany have agreed to take a more consensual approach to winning over the other 25 EU governments, which must all agree to the measures, envoys said.
That now includes a formal study of the potential political and economic impact of the proposed travel bans, asset freezes and other steps.
That could be followed by a final round of debate among EU envoys in Brussels, or, if all countries see only a modest sanctions’ impact, a formal document bringing the measures could come into effect in the next few weeks.
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are both due to meet Trump in separate visits to Washington next week and are expected to discuss the Iran deal.

ITALIAN HOLDOUT
New EU sanctions are part of a multi-pronged approach being negotiated with senior US government officials to show Trump that scrapping the pact between Iran and six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — could be devastating for the Middle East.
However, Italy, which January signed a 5-billion-euro ($6 billion) investment deal with Tehran in January, fears sanctions could damage efforts to rebuild a business relationship with Iran that once made Tehran the EU’s second-biggest oil customer.
Following inconclusive elections in Italy last month, diplomats say the caretaker government in Rome may tell its EU partners it cannot support any new sanctions.
Italian diplomats also questioned whether sanctions would really sway Trump, as some US officials believe they could.
But agreeing sanctions before Trump’s May deadline may be less important than actually getting them approved. The European Union wants to show its anger at Tehran’s support for Assad.
“What is crucial is that there is a goal that has been set and that the Europeans share concerns on Iran’s ballistic and regional activity,” a second diplomat said.
According to the sanctions proposal sent to EU capitals and seen by Reuters, Paris, Berlin and London are also concerned by Iran’s ballistic weapon program, accusing Tehran of “transfers of Iranian missiles and missile technology” to Syria and allies of Tehran in Yemen and Lebanon.
Iran says its missiles are for defensive purposes only.