PARIS: Police officers used tear gas and water cannons in Paris on Saturday to try and disperse a pro-Palestinian rally held despite a ban by authorities, who fear a flare-up of anti-Semitic violence during the worst fighting between Israel and Hamas in years.
Thousands of people converged in the heavily immigrant Barbes neighborhood in the north of the capital, defying orders issued by loudspeakers that the march was illegal.
Officers blocked off wide boulevards as well as narrow streets where some of the protesters were forced to retreat, while knots of residents and passersby watched or recorded the scene with their phones.
Some threw stones or tried to set up roadblocks with construction barriers, but for the most part police pursued groups across the district while preventing any march toward the Place de la Bastille as planned.
“You want to prohibit me from showing solidarity with my people, even as my village is being bombed?” Mohammed, 23 and wearing a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, said.
The march was banned on Thursday over concerns of a repeat of fierce clashes that erupted at a similar Paris march during the last war in 2014, when protesters took aim at synagogues and other Israeli and Jewish targets.
“We all remember that extremely troubling protest where terrible phrases like ‘death to Jews’ were yelled,” Mayor Anne Hidalgo said, welcoming a “wise” decision to ban the march.
But Walid Atallah, president of the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France, the region encompassing Paris, accused the government of inflaming tensions with the ban.
“If there were genuine risks of public disorder, of serious problems, they would have prohibited it right away,” he told a press conference ahead of the march.
“They banned it at the last minute — it’s unacceptable,” he said.
Similar protests in Germany and Denmark this week have degenerated into clashes leading to several arrests.
The protest had originally been called to mark the Nakba, as Palestinians call the “catastrophe” of Israel’s creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.
But a Paris court upheld the ban Friday, saying the “international and domestic context” justified fears of unrest “that could be as serious or even worse than in 2014.”
Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin also called for similar bans in other cities if necessary, and officials prohibited marches in Nice, where around 150 people gathered nonetheless, and in some Paris suburbs.
“We don’t want scenes of violence, we don’t want to import a conflict onto French soil, we don’t want eruptions of hate on our streets,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said Saturday in Marseille.
But no incidents were reported as thousands of people gathered for protests and marches in several other cities including Montpellier, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron’s center-right party and the right-wing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.
Thousands of protesters in London and Madrid marched in support of Palestinians on Saturday.
In London, several thousand protesters carrying placards reading “Stop Bombing Gaza” and chanting “Free Palestine” converged on Marble Arch, near the British capital’s Hyde Park, to march toward the Israeli Embassy.
In Madrid, some 2,500 people, many of them young people wrapped in Palestinian flags, marched to the Puerta del Sol plaza in the city center.
“This is not a war, it’s genocide,” They chanted.
“They are massacring us,” said Amira Sheikh-Ali, a 37-year-old of Palestinian origin.
“We’re in a situation when the Nakba is continuing in the middle of the 21st century,” she said.
“We want to ask Spain and the European authorities not to collaborate with Israel, because with their silence, they are collaborating,” said Ikhlass Abousousiane, a 25-year-old nurse of Moroccan origin.
In Sydney, protesters gathered at Town Hall to march through the streets, chanting slogans such as “Free, free Palestine” and “Free, free Gaza.”
“I see an uprising,” said one protester in Sydney, Walla Abu-Eid. “I see people who are no longer going to remain silent. People who are fed up, people who are responding to oppression and violence by standing up for themselves.”
In Melbourne, protesters gathered at the State Library of Victoria and then marched to Parliament House, many carrying “Free Palestine” posters.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in cities across Iraq to stand in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and Jerusalem.
The demonstrators on Saturday waved Palestinian flags and banners across five provinces in rallies called for by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr. Al-Sadr called on followers to take to the streets and support Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Protesters gathered in Baghdad, and the southern provinces of Babylon, Dhi Qar, Diwanieh and Basra in a show of support. In Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square, demonstrators carried a Palestinian flag several feet long. Many also held up photos of Al-Sadr.
Several thousand people marched in Sydney and hundreds in Melbourne on Saturday, protesting against Israeli attacks on Gaza.