French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday backed attempts to ban controversial comic Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala from performing a one-man show that has been widely condemned as anti-Semitic, according to AFP
Hollande urged local officials to take a hard line in applying an interior ministry circular which authorizes city mayors or police prefects to cancel Dieudonne's performances on public order grounds.
"The government ... has issued instructions to ensure that no one can use a performance for the goals of provocation and the promotion of overtly anti-Semitic theories," Hollande said in a New Year address to civil servants.
The socialist leader said local officials had to be "vigilant and inflexible" in their response to what he described as "shameful provocation" without specifically mentioning Dieudonne.
On Monday, Interior Minister Manuel Valls said he had advised local prefects of police that Dieudonne's shows could be banned if they are deemed to present a threat to public order.
"With the tour about to begin, I believe I had no choice but to take action," Valls was quoted as having told reporters.
The mayor of Paris on Sunday joined Valls in calling for Dieudonne to be banned from the stage. Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe likened Dieudonne to a criminal who "defends crimes against humanity".
The cities of Bordeaux, Nantes and Tours have already announced they will not allow the comic to perform in their theaters. But their moves are expected to face legal challenges on freedom of speech grounds before the scheduled start of Dieudonne's tour in Nantes on Thursday.
Although Dieudonne has been performing anti-Semitic material for years and has been convicted repeatedly for hate speech, he has gained greater prominence in the last year as a result of the Internet-driven success of his trademark "quenelle", an arm gesture some have described as a reverse Nazi salute.
The gesture has landed several personalities in hot water, including soccer player Nicolas Anelka, who used it to celebrate a goal. NBA star Tony Parker last week apologized for his use of the same gesture, after a picture from three years ago of him making it alongside Dieudonne was posted in the French media.
Defenders of the comic say the gesture is simply code for a rebellious message directed at the French establishment. That claim has been undermined, however, by the publication of pictures of Dieudonne fans performing quenelles outside synagogues, at a Holocaust museum and in front of the school in Toulouse where Islamist gunman Mohammed Merah killed a rabbi and three Jewish children in 2012.
Dieudonne's popularity - more than 5,000 tickets have been sold for the opening night of his tour - has exacerbated concern over the resurgence of anti-Semitism in France under the guise of a brand of anti-Zionism.
The concern has escalated so much that Nazi hunters Serge and Beate Klarsfeld have called on people to "rise up" to protest against Dieudonne.
Along with their son Arno, they will be present at a theater in Nantes, western France, next Wednesday, where the comedian is due to perform the following day.
"The three of us are going to Nantes," Arno Klarsfeld told AFP. "It is legitimate and normal when someone makes anti-Semitic speeches and says that not enough Jews were gassed in the gas chambers, that people rise up to protest," he said.
"People who go to see Dieudonne go there to hear Jew-bashing," Klarsfeld asserted, pointing towards his links with a wide variety of religious and political extremists. "He unites anti-Semites from all sides. They are Islamists, ultra-left or far-right.... His shows are anti-Semitic political rallies."