French PM defends ban on pro-Gaza rally after violence

PARIS: France’s prime minister on Sunday defended a controversial decision to ban a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Paris that went ahead anyway and descended into violence. The rally Saturday in a northern district of the French capital was initially peaceful, but scores of men later clashed with riot police, throwing stones and bottles at security forces who responded with tear gas, sending locals and tourists scurrying. “What happened again yesterday in Paris — unacceptable unrest — justifies all the more the brave choice by the interior ministry to ban a demonstration,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Sunday. Just hours after his comments, a rally in the Paris suburb town of Sarcelles that had also initially been banned ended in chaos as several cars were burnt, others had their windows smashed and young protesters lit firecrackers and smoke bombs. Early Sunday evening, tensions were still high in the town, with riot police blocking access to the local synagogue, where a group of young vigilantes stood armed with clubs and iron bars — one of them flying an Israeli flag. The decision to ban the rallies in Paris and Sarcelles were taken out of fear of unrest and amid concern that the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in the French capital. But the move was met with controversy, particularly after protests that were allowed to take place over the weekend in other cities went ahead peacefully. Organisers have defiantly called for another rally in the French capital on Saturday, starting at 1300 GMT in the central Republic Square. The Israeli offensive has stoked passions in France, which has the largest Muslim population in western Europe as well as a 500,000-strong Jewish community. It has highlighted divisions within French society — a Jewish community increasingly concerned over anti-Semitism, French people of north African descent who include a growing radical Islamic fringe, and far-left activists whose opposition to Israeli policies sometimes verges on anti-Semitism. Speaking as he commemorated the anniversary of the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup — a mass arrest of Jews in Paris on July 16 and 17, 1942 — Valls warned of “a new form of anti-Semitism”. He said it was spreading “on the Internet, on networks, in working class areas, among young people who are often aimless, who have no awareness of history, who hide their ‘hatred of the Jews’ behind the facade of anti-Zionism and behind hatred of the Israeli state.” President Francois Hollande also hit out at anti-Semitism and racism Sunday, saying it would not be tolerated. 

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