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France bars Muslim clerics from entering France

By Thomas Adamson
Associated Press / March 29, 2012
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PARIS—France has barred a group of Muslim clerics, including one of the most prominent voices in Sunni Islam, from entering the country to attend a conference.

France's foreign ministry said Thursday the clerics were invited by the French Islamic Union to speak at a congress in Le Bourget near Paris from April 6-9.

One of those barred, the Egyptian-born Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, says he refuses to come to France.

The ban also includes other high-profile Muslim clerics of Palestinian, Egyptian and Saudi origin.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that "these people call for hatred and violence and seriously violate the principles of the Republic, and in the current context, seriously risk disrupting public order."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said earlier this week that these figures would not be "welcome" as their views are incompatible with French values.

Tensions are high in France after Mohamed Merah, a French Muslim of Algerian descent, confessed to killing seven people in shootings in southern France, which included an attack at a Jewish school.

Al-Qaradawi is widely respected throughout the Middle East and has a popular weekly TV show on Islamic law on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.

But because of his suspected extremist links, the 86-year-old cleric has been banned from the United States and was prevented from traveling to Britain to seek medical treatment in 2008 on grounds he supports terrorism.

His 2004 visit to Britain triggered outrage among the country's Jewish community, who believe him to be anti-semitic.

In the Islamic world, al-Qaradawi has been criticized by more conservative scholars for allowing things like men and women to study together, encouraging Western Muslims to participate in their democracies, and condemning al-Qaida's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sarkozy has put security high up on the agenda as he seeks reelection in the upcoming presidential poll that kicks off April 22.

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