JUNE 15 2010 21:31h
Paris police on Tuesday banned a controversial "pork sausage and wine" street party planned by extremist groups to combat what they saw as the "Islamisation" of a city neighbourhood.
The event was planned for Friday evening at a time when the district's streets are usually jammed with Muslims coming out of mosques and just before Algeria were due to play England in the football World Cup.
But police banned the event and any rival gatherings in the Goutte d'Or area of northern Paris' 18th arrondissement, or district, saying in a statement that it was likely to cause "serious risks to public order."
The plan had sparked outrage from politicians and anti-racism groups who said it was blatantly racist and could lead to violence on the streets.
The controversy comes after a government-sponsored debate on national identity earlier this year spotlighted anxieties about the integration of France's five to six million Muslims.
The Goutte d'Or party, or "apero geant" as it was called in French, was a new and politically-charged take on a growing trend in France for huge open-air drinks parties organised on the social networking site Facebook.
Many of them have been banned because authorities fear mass drunkenness.
The original idea for the Goutte d'Or gathering apparently came from a local woman who set up a Facebook page announcing the event to fight against what she saw as the increasing "Islamisation" of her area.
The woman, who uses the pseudonym Sylvie Francois on Facebook, told Liberation newspaper that she no longer felt at home in the neighbourhood where she had lived all her life.
- People of French origin can't have a drink in peace there. If you are a woman you get hostile looks if you're not wearing an (Islamic) veil - she said.
Her party idea, whose Facebook page by Tuesday had nearly 7,000 members, urged revellers to bring along a bottle of wine and a "saucisson", the sliced, cold sausage that is a staple of traditional French before-dinner drinks.
But the plan was then taken up by far-right and far-left extremist groups who publicised it on other Internet sites.
One of these groups, Riposte Laique (Secular Response), which presents itself as a far-left anti-religious group, said the street party was meant to be a "festive" response to the "fascist-Islamist offensive in France".
The group's founder Pierre Cassen told i-Tele news channel that "religious militia were occupying the public space" in many streets in the Goutte d'Or area.
The run-down district is dominated by people of north African and sub-Saharan African origin, and its mosques are so full on Fridays, the Muslim day of prayers, that many believers end up praying on the streets outside.
The street party, whose two main components of pork and alcohol are forbidden by Islamic teaching, was scheduled to be held on Rue Myrha, where there is a mosque.
A French government minister of Algerian descent, Fadela Amara, on Tuesday condemned the planned party as "hateful, racist and xenophobic".
Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe for his part voiced concern that the drinks party could turn violent, while the head of the main Paris mosque located in another area invited the faithful to attend prayers there to avoid clashes.
A rival group on Facebook had set up a "halal and mint tea" party in response to the pork and wine event.
The deputy leader of France's far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, slammed the ban on the event, saying "the French state has capitulated once again".