Paris braces for pro-Palestinians demo despite ban
Paris braced for possible clashes on Saturday as organisers vowed to hold a march in support of the Palestinians through the French capital despite a ban by authorities fearing a flare-up of anti-Semitic violence.
Police have ordered shops to close from noon along the planned route, from the heavily immigrant Barbes neighbourhood in the north to the place de la Bastille.
Police had banned the march, and a court upheld the decision, fearing a repeat of fierce clashes that erupted during a similar Paris demonstration during the last Israel-Palestinians war in 2014, when protesters took aim at synagogues and other Israeli and Jewish targets.
"We all remember that extremely troubling protest where terrible phrases like 'death to Jews' were yelled," Mayor Anne Hidalgo told AFP on Friday, welcoming the "wise" decision by the police to ban the march.
Similar protests in Germany and Denmark this week have degenerated into clashes leading to several arrests.
Organisers of the Paris march, who failed to have a court overturn the police ban, have announced a press conference for 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) ahead of the expected 3:00 pm start.
"We refuse to silence our solidarity with the Palestinians, and we will not be prevented from demonstrating," the Association of Palestinians in Ile-de-France, the region encompassing the capital, and other groups said in a statement.
They include anti-fascist associations, the citizens' activist group Attac and the far-left New Anti-Capitalist party.
A lawyer for the groups, Sefen Guez Guez, denounced the police ban as "disproportionate" and "politically motivated."
The police department warned on Twitter that anyone taking part would face fines of 135 euros ($165).
Repeat of unrest?
The protest had originally been called to mark the Nakba, as Palestinians call the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948, which turned hundreds of thousands into refugees.
But a Paris court maintained that the "international and domestic context" justified fears of unrest "that could be as serious or even worse than in 2014."
Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin also called for similar bans in other cities if necessary, and officials have prohibited marches in Nice and some Paris suburbs.
Other protests are going forward in Lyon, Bordeaux, Marseille and other cities.
Critics accuse France of being too favourable toward Israel in the latest conflict, which has seen a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza that has been met with Israeli artillery and airstrikes.
The ban has caused a split among French politicians, with President Emmanuel Macron's centre-right party and the right-wing opposition supporting the move, but leftists calling it an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression.
Macron's office said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, offering his "condolences for the victims of the rocket fire claimed by Hamas and other terrorist groups."
The statement said Macron urged a return to peace and "his concern about the civilian population in Gaza."
France has the largest Muslim population in Europe, with an estimated five to six million people.
It also has the largest Jewish population after Israel and the United States.