REPEAT - French confusion over start of Ramadan after conflicting declarations

PARIS (AFP) - French Muslims were thrown into confusion on Tuesday after the country's top Islamic body and officials at Paris' leading mosque differed over the start date of the holy month of Ramadan.

While the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) initially insisted Ramadan began on Tuesday (9th), the theological council at the Great Mosque of Paris argued it would not start until Wednesday (10th). The later date is the day many Arab countries are due to begin the observance.

However, the CFCM later reversed its decision. It said in a statement that "in order to preserve the unity of French Muslims", it had joined the mosque in declaring Wednesday the start of Ramadan.

The holy month, during which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, begins with the sighting of the new moon, which varies from country to country.

The CFCM decided in May that Tuesday would represent the start of Ramadan based on the expected arrival of the new moon. Theologians, however, at the Paris mosque decided on Monday night to put the start off by a day, saying the new moon had not been sighted.