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France to press on with law on "unrepublican" behaviour

FILE PHOTO: French Prime Minister Jean Castex leaves the Bois d'Aulne college where Samuel Paty, the French teacher, was beheaded on the streets of the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, France, November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo reuters_tickers
This content was published on December 9, 2020 - 18:00

PARIS (Reuters) - France's government decided on Wednesday to press ahead with a law it says will crack down on practices that go against the values of the French Republic, such as forced marriage and virginity tests, though opponents say it risks alienating some Muslims.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told reporters the law would give authorities tools to "combat political and ideological undertakings which go against our values ... and sovereignty and sometimes go as far as criminal acts."

The cabinet formally supported the proposed legislation on Wednesday, allowing it to go forward to the lower house of parliament, where the government and its allies control a majority of seats.

The debate around the law has become more charged since the Oct. 16 beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty by a man who said he wanted to punish the teacher for showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a civics class on free speech.

In the days before the killing, some people shared angry posts on social media about the teacher.

French officials say it is no longer enough to police acts of violence and that there is a need also to sanction behaviour which they say is not explicitly criminal but is out of step with the values of the French state.

The proposed law includes tougher measures against online apologists for acts of violence, the risk of expulsion for foreign nationals with multiple wives, and checks on anyone who educates their child outside mainstream schools.

Officials deny the proposed law targets Islam or Muslims.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of left-wing opposition party La France Insoumise, said: "We don't accept the stigmatisation of Muslims that this draft contains."

He said the government was "surfing on a kind of wave of hostility to Muslims in order to wave its arms around."

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Christian Lowe, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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