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French minister OK’s banning comedian

PARIS — French Interior Minister Manuel Valls on Monday sent a memo to regional authorities encouraging them to ban shows by controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, whose signature “quenelle” gesture has been likened to a Nazi salute.

Speaking during a public engagement in the Paris suburbs, Valls said he had decided to act before Dieudonne, who uses his first name as a stage name, begins a nationwide tour on Thursday in the western city of Nantes. The memo was sent to the heads of the country’s prefectures, who are responsible for public order at the local level.

“It reiterates that mayors or prefects can ban a show over a risk of public disorder,” Valls said.

Dieudonne has been in the government’s sights since he was filmed last month making a jibe in a show about a Jewish radio journalist and Nazi gas chambers. Days later, footballer Nicolas Anelka performed Dieudonne’s “quenelle” gesture, which is made by touching the right shoulder with the left hand and extending the right arm downwards, after scoring a goal in a match in England, where he plays.

Dieudonne denies the gesture is anti-Semitic, saying it merely symbolizes rejection of the establishment.

Dieudonne started out in a duo with a Jewish comedian poking fun at racists, but in later solo shows veered to the far-right, leading to seven convictions for hate speech.

The comedian has used the convictions to cast himself as the victim of a purported Jewish “lobby” — a stance that has gone over well with his mostly young fans, who have lined up to have themselves photographed performing the “quenelle” in public.

“Dieudonne is profoundly anti-Jewish,” Valls told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper at the weekend, arguing that his shows had become political rallies.

Officials in several cities where he is due to perform said they were trying to ban his show. French courts have usually backed Dieudonne in such standoffs, saying that banning his shows would be a blow for freedom of expression.

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