French mosque reopens after protest disruptions

Fri Mar 12, 2010 2:15pm EST
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By James Mackenzie

DRANCY, France (Reuters) - A French mosque, whose imam says he has received death threats over his promotion of dialogue with Jews, reopened for Friday prayers after it was forced to close down this week due to disruptive protests.

The mosque in Drancy, a suburb to the north of Paris, has been the focus of tension for weeks with a small group of protesters keeping up a noisy barrage of criticism against the imam Hassen Chalghoumi.

"We've been facing really enormous pressure for five or six weeks now," Chalghoumi told reporters before Friday prayers. "We want peace, we want calm. These people aren't welcome here."

The mosque was closed for security reasons on Tuesday after the association which runs it said that protesters had interrupted services.

As Chalghoumi spoke, a group of around 30 protesters gathered outside the fence of the mosque, facing off with fluorescent-vested security staff preventing them from entering.

The problems at the Drancy mosque have underlined the volatile mix of prejudice, integration problems and fears over radical Islamist extremism that have often plagued France's large Muslim community.

A spokesman for the Grand Mosque of Paris called for a return to calm in Drancy and deplored the manner in which the protesters had "set themselves up as religious police."

Chalghoumi gained widespread prominence in France earlier this year when he backed government calls for a ban on full-face veils called burqas or niqabs, provoking stiff opposition from some local Muslims.   Continued...