Right wing activists occupy French mosque site

Protests outside under construction mosque in Poitiers provokes criticism from religious leaders

French activists occupied the building site in the central French city of Poitiers where a mosque is under construction.

French activists occupied the building site in the central French city of Poitiers where a mosque is under construction.

French activists occupied the building site in the central French city of Poitiers where a mosque is under construction for several hours on Saturday, provoking angry criticism from political and religious leaders, Agence France Presse reported.

The news agency said the 70 right wing activists entered the site before dawn and stayed until about midday. The activists displayed a number of banners including one reading “Charles Martel beat the Arabs at Poitiers in 732,” in reference to a battle credited with stopping the advance of Islam into western Europe, AFP reported.

Towards noon the activists agreed to leave and the evacuation was completed by 13:00 (11:00 GMT).

“We were planning to stay longer but as we had no intention whatsoever of a physical confrontation - we are leaving with the police in a good mood without an unhappy ending,” a spokesman for the demonstrators, Damien Rieu, was cited as saying by AFP.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault “firmly” condemned a “provocation that reveals an unacceptable religious hatred,” while Interior Minister Manuel Valls said it was a “hateful and inadmissible provocation,” AFP reported.

France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe at about 5m, banned street protests last month against caricatures and depictions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that were released in a US film and a Paris-based satirical magazine. The images are deemed insulting by Muslims. 

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