PARIS (AP) — French police fired tear gas as clashes broke out at a banned pro-Gaza demonstration on Saturday as thousands defied a ban on the protest.
The interior minister had earlier called on organizers of the Paris demonstration to observe the ban imposed to halt potential anti-Semitic violence.
At least 3,000 people gathered anyway at the Place de la Republique in eastern Paris under the watch of several hundred riot police, who blocked streets leading into the big square, cutting short plans for a march. Tension mounted as hundreds of protesters, some masked, began throwing stones and projectiles at police who responded with tear gas.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve made his public appeal to obey the ban shortly before the demonstration started. Hours earlier, the Council of State, France’s top administrative body, ruled the protest ban was legal.
A court had ruled likewise, but organizers said they would exercise their right to protest.
“Every day is a day that counts” for those living in Gaza, said Olivier Besancenot, former head of the far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party.
Gaza has been under siege for weeks by Israel, which says Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers are a threat. More than 1,000 people have died.
France has Western Europe’s largest Jewish and Muslim populations, and Middle East crises have for years been reflected in tensions, and a rise in anti-Semitic acts or hate speech, here.
Two banned pro-Gaza protests last weekend, in Paris and Sarcelles, to the north, degenerated into violence and attacks on synagogues. On Wednesday, an authorized demonstration of up to 15,000 people was peaceful.
Cazeneuve said chatter on social networks indicated a risk that Saturday’s protest could become a “cortege of violence.”
Over the past week, nearly two dozen people have been convicted after arrests in last weekend’s violence.