Authorities in several French cities and towns announced they had banned performances by provacative French comic Dieudonné, who has come under fire for his shows, which many say are anti-Semitic and for his now infamous "quenelle" gesture.
On Monday and Tuesday officials in Bordeaux, Nantes and Tours said they will not allow him to perform there on the grounds his show infringes on "people's dignity,' BFMTV reported. The performer was scheduled to perform in Nantes on Thursday, which authorities had promised to ban on public order grounds.
Dieudonné has been convicted for hate speech in the past but insists his shows are anti-Zionist rather than anti-Semitic. His lawyer promised to fight the bans.
"As soon as the order is issued we will go before a judge at the administrative court in Nantes to get it cancelled,” said lawyer Jacques Verdier. "What we know is these bans are based on disturbing public order…a serious disturbance, that’s when the police are no long able to contain the trouble."
Dieudonné has come under greater scrutiny in recent weeks after images emerged of fans performing his quenelle gesture, described by some as a Nazi style salute, outside Jewish synagogues and Holocaust memorials. Defenders of the comic say the gesture is simply code for an "up yours" message directed at the French establishment.
On Tuesday President François Hollande urged officials to take a hard line on the performer, urging them to apply an interior ministry circular that authorizes mayors and police officials to cancel Dieudonné shows.
"The government ... has issued instructions to ensure that no one can use a performance for the goals of provocation and the promotion of overtly anti-Semitic theories," Hollande said in a New Year address to civil servants.
The Socialist leader said local officials had to be "vigilant and inflexible" in their response to what he described as "shameful provocation" without specifically mentioning Dieudonné.
But the bans are expected to face legal challenges on freedom of speech grounds before the scheduled start of Dieudonné's tour in Nantes on Thursday.
Dieudonne's popularity - more than 5,000 tickets have been sold for the opening night of his tour - has exacerbated concern over a perceived resurgence of anti-Semitism in France under the guise of a brand of anti-Zionism.