Comedian banned from show in claims of racism
A French comic who is considered anti-Semitic was banned from performing just hours after a court in Nantes said he could go ahead with his show.
As conflicting rulings by French authorities over Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala's act sowed widespread confusion, riot police blocked access to the Zenith theatre, in the western city of Nantes.
Thousands of stunned ticket-holders in the nearly sold-out show chanted and hissed.
The 47-year-old comedian has been convicted more than a half-dozen times for inciting racial hatred or anti-Semitism in shows in which the Holocaust has been derided. He also has popularised the "quenelle" hand gesture, which Interior Minister Manuel Valls has criticised as an "inverted Nazi salute".
Dieudonne, as he is known, denies that his act and the "quenelle" are anti-Semitic.
Tensions over Dieudonne have played out on national television for days as they reached all the way to the pinnacle of the state, raising sometimes uncomfortable questions about free expression and anti-Semitism in today's France.
The tug-of-war over yesterday's show involved a multitude of French authorities: the Council of State, the country's highest administrative body; the city of Nantes; a court in Nantes and the interior minister.
Mr Valls wants Dieudonne kept off all stages in France, denouncing what he calls the "mechanics of hate".
The city of Nantes had banned the comic's performance, but a Nantes court overturned that ban earlier yesterday. Mr Valls then took the matter to the ultimate authority, the Council of State, asking for an urgent decision.
"In the face of the mechanics of hate ... we need firmness and determination and great calm," the interior minister said.
Citing a risk to public safety, the council banned the performance only two hours before the show was to begin.
It brushed aside claims that Dieudonne would change his show to avoid offensive language, and said a "serious risk" of "grave attacks" to fundamental French values could not be dismissed.
Mr Valls declared that France had been made stronger by the decision to keep Dieudonne off the stage in Nantes. "(But) the combat against the nauseating words of this personage continues," Mr Valls said.