Paris mayor joins calls for ban from stage of French comic

PARIS (AFP) - The mayor of Paris on Sunday joined France's interior minister in calling for comedian Dieudonne, whose vitriolic brand of humour targeting Jews has caused outrage, to be banned from the stage.

Dieudonne has been part of France's comedy scene for years, but while he started out with a Jewish comedian in sketches that mocked racism, he gradually veered to the far-right and alienated some fans with anti-Jewish comments - his latest being a joke about gas chambers.

He has been fined several times for defamation, using insulting language, hate speech and racial discrimination, and a provocative arm gesture he makes has been described as an upside down Nazi salute.

Dieudonne says the so-called "quenelle" gesture merely represents his anti-establishment views arguing that the horrors of the Holocaust are given too much focus to the exclusion of other crimes, like slavery and racism.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, a socialist, on Sunday likened Dieudonne to a criminal who "defends crimes against humanity".

"We must ban the performances (of Dieudonne)," he said, echoing recent comments made by Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Outraged by Dieudonne's latest jibe against Jewish radio presenter Patrick Cohen, Mr Valls said he was examining options to ban performances by a man he brands as a "little trader of hate".

"When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I tell myself, you know, the gas chambers... A shame," Dieudonne had said in comments filmed secretly then aired on French television. Mr Valls has also asked Dieudonne to pay some 65,000 euros (S$112, 125) he has run up in fines.

Officials in several cities where Dieudonne is set to perform during a nationwide tour this month have also said they are trying to ban his show.

And veteran Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld have called for a protest on Wednesday at a theatre in the western city of Nantes, where Dieudonne is due to perform. The controversy comes at a sensitive time for France, where racism has once again shot to the fore after the country's black justice minister was the victim of a series of racial jibes - prompting President Francois Hollande to pledge intransigence on racism in his New Year's address.