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French interior minister says Muslims should not be allowed to pray on streets in Paris suburb

French interior minister says Muslims should not be allowed to pray on streets in Paris suburb
The French authorities will prevent Muslims in a northern Paris suburb from praying in the streets, the interior minister says. Local worshippers have been protesting the recent closure of a convenient prayer room.

Gerard Collomb reiterated his opposition to prayers staged by the Union of Muslim Worship and Cultural Associations of Clichy-la-Garenne (UAMC) every Friday in the city center since March after a hall they had rented from the town was remodeled into a multimedia library under the new mayor. A dedicated worship center has been built since then, but local Muslims are unhappy about its location and size.

“They will not have prayers on the street, we will prevent street praying,” Collomb told Questions Politics, while promising to find a mutually acceptable solution “in the next few weeks.”

“Muslims must have a place of worship to pray,” he stressed.

The bickering between the city administration and the local Muslim community has been going on since March, when police were called to expel the UAMC from the premises pursuant to a court order, reaffirmed by the Council of State in November of last year.

In response to the eviction, the UAMC called for street prayers to be held in front of the building, which is located in downtown Clichy. The association claimed that it was attended by “between 3,000 and 5,000 worshippers” daily and that the refusal of the town to renew the rent agreement after it expired in July 2016 infringes on their right to worship freely, guaranteed by French law.

Clichy Mayor Rémi Muzeau from The Republicans (LR) party, who is responsible for the repurposing of the premises, says there is no need for a new prayer room, as there is already a new center – the Clichy Muslim Cultural and Worship Center (ACCCMC) to the north of the town.

The UAMC, however, says the new center is too far away from downtown Clichy and is unable to accommodate all the worshippers.

Tensions flared up on November 10, when about a hundred elected politicians, including mayors, MPs from The Republicans, the Union of Democrats and Independents, The Democratic Movement, and the National Front (FN) attempted to block the Muslims from praying on the streets.

On Wednesday, Collomb said that “there can be no street prayers,” urging the prefect to get in touch with both elected officials and the Muslim communities to find a way to reconcile the parties.

READ MORE: Le Pen acquitted of 'inciting hatred' after comparing Muslim street prayers to Nazi occupation

There are an estimated five million Muslims in France, and street prayers are becoming more frequent due to a shortage of mosques, sparking controversy within multi-ethnic communities. Former presidential candidate and National Front leader Marine Le Pen was accused of inciting hatred against Muslims in 2010 after comparing street prayers to Nazi occupation. She was subsequently cleared of all charges in December 2015.