Paris bans Muslim street prayers after far-right protests

Muslims in Paris have been banned from saying their prayers in the street after far-right protests at the practice.

Because the city's mosques are overcrowded, Muslims had taken to spreading their prayer mats on the footpaths, leading the city authorities, mindful of France's aversion to public displays of faith, to impose the ban.

A compromise agreement was struck on Wednesday between city authorities and local mosques to rent out disused barracks to be used for prayers. But one imam said the preparations were behind schedule. Mohammed Salah Hamza said he feared "anarchy". "We are not cattle," he added.

About 1,000 people have been praying on two streets in the multi-ethnic Goutte d'Or district. In the long run, a new Islamic centre is supposed solve the problem. That is scheduled to be finished by 2013, although the timeline is far from certain.

Tensions in Goutte d'Or were raised last year when far-right provocateurs tried to organise a "Sausage and Wine" party, in a mockery of Islam's strict dietary rules, but were thwarted by police.

Then this summer Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extremist National Front party, referred to street prayers as a form of "occupation".

About 1,800 more mosques are needed for France's estimated 6 million Muslims. The shortages have led to similar problems in Marseille and Nice.

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