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ELECTION

Sarkozy in mosque visit after halal row

President Nicolas Sarkozy visited Paris's main mosque on Wednesday, a week after a row over halal and kosher slaughter led France's Muslims and Jews to complain they were being used as pawns in the presidential election.

Sarkozy in mosque visit after halal row

Sarkozy met the mosque’s rector and the French Muslim Council leader and said he told them “he did not want, in this electoral period, some of our compatriots to feel hurt by controversies that have no place here”.

“I wanted to say… to our compatriots of the Muslim religion that they naturally have the right to follow their faith as any other citizen has the right to follow his religion,” he told reporters.

Sarkozy also inaugurated at the mosque a memorial to Muslim soldiers who died fighting for France.

Sarkozy has been accused of tacking to the right in the run-up to the April 22 first round of the presidential election in order to recruit voters tempted by anti-immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen’s platform.

Last week the issue of Muslim immigration and in particular Islamic and Jewish dietary practice surged to the fore in the election debate, upsetting religious leaders.

Jews and Muslims came together to complain they were being used as pawns in the election, after first Le Pen then Sarkozy and finally his prime minister Francois Fillon criticised the production of halal and kosher meat.

France is home to western Europe’s largest Muslim minority, officially estimated at least four million, and its largest Jewish community, estimated at up to 700,000.

The country has for years been debating how far it is willing to go to accommodate Islam, now France’s second religion, and Sarkozy and Le Pen have both made the matter a central issue in their campaigns.

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ISLAM

Erdogan calls French separatism bill ‘guillotine’ of democracy

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday denounced a planned French law designed to counter "Islamist separatism" as a "guillotine" of democracy.

Erdogan calls French separatism bill 'guillotine' of democracy
Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as "anti-Muslim". Photo: Adem ALTAN/AFP

The draft legislation has been criticised both inside France and abroad for stigmatising Muslims and giving the state new powers to limit speech and religious groups.

“The adoption of this law, which is openly in contradiction of human rights, freedom of religion and European values, will be a guillotine blow inflicted on French democracy,” said Erdogan in a speech in Ankara.

The current version of the planned law would only serve the cause of extremism, putting NGOs under pressure and “forcing young people to choose between their beliefs and their education”, he added.

READ ALSO: What’s in France’s new law to crack down on Islamist extremism?

“We call on the French authorities, and first of all President (Emmanuel) Macron, to act sensibly,” he continued. “We expect a rapid withdrawal of this bill.”

Erdogan also said he was ready to work with France on security issues and integration, but relations between the two leaders have been strained for some time.

France’s government is in the process of passing new legislation to crack down on what it has termed “Islamist separatism”, which would give the state more power to vet and disband religious groups judged to be threats to the nation.

Erdogan has already denounced the proposed measures as “anti-Muslim”.

READ ALSO: Has Macron succeeded in creating an ‘Islam for France’?

Last October, Erdogan questioned Macron’s “mental health”, accusing him of waging a “campaign of hatred” against Islam, after the French president defended the right of cartoonists to caricature the prophet Mohammed.

The two countries are also at odds on a number of other issues, including Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.

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