Paris: Police crack down on Palestinian solidarity protest that defied ban
Palestinian solidarity demonstrations defied an official government ban in the French capital today, prompting a violent crackdown by police.
Police in Paris had ordered shops to close from noon along the planned route, from the heavily immigrant Barbes neighbourhood in the north to the Place de la Bastille.
Dozens of riot-control officers converged on the area ahead of the protest, which was set to start at 3pm, as did crowds of youths facing off against police units on several streets.
Middle East Eye is covering the protests via its Facebook live stream.
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.
'They banned it at the last minute - it's unacceptable'
- Walid Atallah, president of the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France
"If there were genuine risks of public disorder, of serious problems, they would have prohibited it right away," he told a press conference.
"They banned it at the last minute - it's unacceptable," he said.
Officials said they feared 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 told AFP on Friday, welcoming a "wise" decision to ban the march.
Similar protests in Germany and Denmark this week have degenerated into clashes leading to several arrests.
Several groups were to take part in the Paris demo, including anti-fascist associations, the citizens' activist group Attac and the far-left New Anti-Capitalist party.
A lawyer for the groups, Sefen Guez Guez, denounced the police ban as "disproportionate" and "politically motivated".
Another group hoping to stage a pro-Palestinian protest Saturday in Paris filed an appeal against a similar ban with the State Council, France's highest administrative court.
'Scenes of violence'
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 on 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 have prohibited marches in Nice and 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 on Saturday in Marseille.
Protests went ahead in Montpellier, Toulouse and several other cities.
Critics accuse France of being too favourable toward Israel in the latest conflict, which has seen barrages of rocket fire from Gaza in response to deadly Israeli artillery and air strikes killing dozens of civilians.
The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron's centre-right party and the right-wing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.
Macron's office said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, offering his "condolences for the victims of the rocket fire claimed by Hamas and other terrorist groups".
The statement said Macron urged a return to peace and "his concern about the civilian population in Gaza".
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with an estimated five to six million people.
It also has the largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States.