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Anti-racism groups to sue over 'quenelle' sign

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Anti-racism groups to sue over 'quenelle' sign
Supporters of Dieudoné make the "quenelle" at a recent rally in support of the comic. Photo: Pierre Andrieu/AFP
09:47 CET+01:00
Anti-racist groups in France say they intend to sue anyone caught making the now infamous "quenelle” gesture in Jewish locations, such as schools and Holocaust memorials. The 'nazi style' sign, popularized by controversial French comic Dieudonné, is seen as anti-Semitic.

SOS Racisme, an organisation that fights racism, announced on Sunday it would take to court anyone who spread pictures of or made the "quenelle" in locations such as synagogues or Holocaust memorials "that leave no doubt" as to the anti-Semitic nature of the gesture.

The “quenelle” was popularised by controversial French comic Dieudonné, who insists it is an anti-establishment gesture. But others argue the sign, described as a reverse Nazi salute, has taken on clear anti-Semitic tone.

The French-based International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism(Licra) also said late on Sunday that it was ready to take such legal action in Bordeaux, in southwest France, over recent "quenelle" incidents outside a synagogue there.

"There has been a type of impunity" as regards the offensive gesture, "but the impunity is over," said Licra's Clothilde Chapuis.

In December prosecutors in Toulouse opened an investigation after photographs emerged on the internet of a man making the quenelle outside the Jewish school were three children and a rabbi were gunned down by the Al-Qaeda inspired gunman Mohamed Merah in March 2012. 

Meanwhile pressure is growing on authorities to take action against Dieudonné himself, who has been part of France's comedy scene for years.

Although he started out with a Jewish comedian in sketches that mocked racism, he gradually veered to the far-right and alienated some fans with anti-Jewish comments - one of his latest being a joke about gas chambers.

Dieudonné - From comic idol to 'preacher of hate'

On Sunday the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë was the latest voice of authority to call for a ban on Dieudonné’s shows.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Delanoë likened Dieudonné to a criminal who "defends crimes against humanity".

"We must ban the performances (of the comedian)," he said, echoing recent comments made by Interior Minister Manuel Valls

Dieudonné has been fined several times for defamation, using insulting language, hate speech and racial discrimination, and over his use of the provocative straight arm quenelle gesture

But the 47-year-old comedian argues that the horrors of the Holocaust are given too much focus to the exclusion of other crimes, like slavery and racism, and says the gesture merely represents his anti-establishment views.

Valls, meanwhile, has said he wants to ban performances by Dieudonné on hisnationwide tour this month, outraged by the comedian's recent jibe against Jewish radio presenter Patrick Cohen.

"When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I tell myself, you know, the gaschambers... A shame," Dieudonné had said in comments filmed secretly at a show and aired on French television last month.

Valls, who believes Dieudonné's shows are taking the form of political rallies, has also asked the comedian to pay some €65,000 ($88,500) he has run up in fines.

Officials in several cities where Dieudonné is set to perform during his January tour have said they are trying to ban his show.

By the start of the week most of the 5,000 tickets available for the Nantes show, which kicks off his latest tour, had been sold, according to the Zenith theatre where he is due to perform.

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