Michel Houellebecq play pulled over 'security risk'

ZAGREB (AFP) - A play by best-selling French author Michel Houellebecq - whose book imagining France under Islamic rule stirred controversy - has been pulled from a Croatian arts festival due to security fears, organisers said on Thursday.

Houellebecq's drama Elementary Particles (Les Particules elementaires) was to have been staged at this year's Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

But in a statement released by the festival, organisers said the play had been cancelled "after the interior ministry assessed that its playing would present a security risk".

The assessment had been made following a request by the Dubrovnik regional authorities, it added.

Croatian artists, however, condemned the decision as "scandalous".

Festival chief Ivana Medo Bogdanovic told AFP the authorities had concerns since Houellebecq "allegedly has a negative view towards Islam and makes negative statements towards Islamic believers".

But she added that the "play is not dealing with religious issues but rather with the crisis of Western liberal societies in the context of love and relations between a man and a woman".

The Dubrovnik county head Nikola Dobroslavic said he sought a security assessment because "we were warned that he (Houellebecq) was controversial and was making insulting comments about Islam".

"We did not want to accept or finance a programme that might offend our fellow-citizens," he was quoted as saying by the state-run HINA news agency.

Houellebecq's latest book Submission, which imagines a Muslim-governed France in 2022, was released in France in January.

The novel provoked a fiery debate, with critics accusing the controversy-courting author of stirring up Islamophobia and helping the cause of France's far-right National Front.

In 2001, Houellebecq prompted outrage by stating in an interview that "the most stupid religion is, let's face it, Islam".

Almost 90 per cent of Croatia's 4.2 million population are Catholics. Muslims account for around 1.5 per cent.

This year's Dubrovnik festival is to open on July 10 and runs for almost two months.