Hundreds have clashed with police in a Paris suburb after a Muslim woman was stopped for wearing a veil. The Muslim community contests the police version of events, while nationalists blame France’s immigration policy.
A crowd of some 250 people collected outside the police station of the gritty Paris suburb of Trappes in response to the arrest of a Muslim man who police say assaulted them after they checked the identity of a woman wearing an Islamic veil.
“Her husband reacted in a hostile fashion, insulting and hitting the policemen. The man was placed in custody for that reason,” Jean-Marc Galland, a senior official for Yvelines region, told Reuters.
“On Friday, there were demands for clarification from people in the town who did not understand the arrest,” he added.
But Prosecutor Vincent Lesclous later told reporters that the man had in-fact tried to strangle a police officer.
The crowd soon turned violent, setting fire to bins and hurling stones at the police and the police station.
In response around a dozen vans carrying riot police were
dispatched to the area and police responded with tear gas, while
a police helicopter buzzed overhead.
Four police officers were injured and a 14-year old boy suffered a serious eye injury from a flying projectile, police said.
A witness said that the crowd was calling on the police to release the husband.
“They [the police] didn’t want to listen and it got out of control. Trappes is a big family. When you attack us we’re going to respond,” the man, who gave his name as Sofiane, told the French television channel iTele.
However, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF)
disagreed with the official version of events and published a
statement on its website, claiming to be from the wife of the
arrested man where she accused the police of being abusive and
using unnecessary force.
She said that a police officer grabbed her by the veil, spoke to her aggressively and violently pushed her mother.
“I turned and I saw my husband being held on the ground by two policemen who were putting him in handcuffs. Once in the police car they yelled at us like we were animals,” the statement from a woman named Hajar, read.
The CCIF itself said that the actions of the police reflected
that “racism and Islamaphobia” are now “clearly
institutionalized and legitimized” in France.
France banned any item of clothing that conceals the face while in public in 2011, which includes the burqa and niqab, which is sometimes worn by Muslim women.
The ‘burqa ban’ as the law became known sparked a wave of protests and is a highly divisive issue in France, which has the biggest population of Muslims of any country in Western Europe; although French officials estimate that of 5-6 million Muslims only about 2,000 wear a full face veil.
Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front Party, was quick to blame Friday’s violence on the problems associated with mass immigration.
She said it was time to “re-conquest every square meter of the national territory” as those responsible for Friday’s disturbances had “taken control of large parts of the Republic”.
“Governments must stop trembling before thugs and finally stand up to them with total inflexibility and extreme firmness,” said Le Pen, who is herself facing charges of incitement to hatred and discrimination, after comments in 2011 where she compared Muslim immigrants in France to German soldiers during the Nazi occupation of France in the Second World War.