PARIS: French authorities will stop Muslims from praying in a street north of Paris, the country's interior minister said Sunday, after a series of protests by lawmakers and locals over what they view as an unacceptable use of public space.
"They will not have prayers on the street, we will prevent street praying," Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told Questions Politics (Franceinfo, France Inter, Le Monde).
Prayers in the street have taken place every Friday in the multiethnic suburb of Clichy-la-Garenne since March to protest the closure of a popular local mosque that had operated in a government building but since been turned into a library.
Worshippers have accused the authorities of not offering suitable land to build a new mosque and the interior minister acknowledged the need for an alternative: "Muslims must have a place of worship to pray."
"We will make sure we resolve this conflict in the next few weeks," he added.
A local Muslim association has said it intends to hold prayers in the city centre next Friday.
The row about prayer space saw around 100 local French politicians attempt to block worshippers on November 10, disrupting the crowd by singing the French national anthem.
The rightwing mayor of Clichy, Remi Muzeau, has argued that another mosque already exists north of the town, but mosque leaders have dismissed that idea as unviable, arguing it is too small and has poor transport links.
France has around five million Muslims, and concern about the religion challenging the country's strict secular laws was a major theme in this year's presidential election.
Muslim religious leaders complain that not enough space is made available for those wanting to attend services, but building new mosques remains controversial, with the influential far-right National Front (FN) particularly hostile.
In 2011, FN leader Marine Le Pen compared the sight of Muslims praying on the streets to the occupation of France by the Nazis in World War II, leading her to be prosecuted -- and acquitted -- for inciting hatred.