France bans street prayers
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A French ban on praying in the street came into force on Friday, driving thousands of Muslim worshippers in northern Paris into a makeshift prayer site in a disused fire brigade barracks, angering a small but vocal minority.
The street-prayer ban has highlighted France's problems assimilating its 5-million-strong Muslim community, which lacks prayer space, and follows a long-running controversy, fanned by far-right leader Marine Le Pen, over Muslims forced to lay their prayer mats on the streets in big cities.
Interior Minister Claude Gueant directed Muslims in Paris to temporary spaces made available pending the building of a huge new prayer space and warned that force would be used if necessary as police end their tolerance of street prayers.
Seven months before a presidential election, the ban has struck some in France as an attempt to rally far-right sympathisers to President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right camp. At the barracks, Cheik Mohammed Salah Hamza oversaw prayers for Muslims who had migrated from around the city. "It's the beginning of a solution," Hamza told Reuters before the start of the service. "The faithful are very pleased to be here." Others were not as happy. "No system in the universe can control us aside from Allah," shouted one man in north Paris.
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