Anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala
Anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'balaReuters

France moved Monday to try and ban performances by the controversial comic Dieudonne just days before the start of a nationwide tour of a one-man show containing anti-Semitic material, reports AFP.

According to the report, 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.

Valls was thus following up on comments he made last week, when he said he would seek to ban Dieudonne's performances altogether.

Authorities in the southwestern city of Bordeaux were the first to act, banning the comedian's January 26 show for undisclosed reasons, and officials elsewhere are also considering preventing him from performing.

The comedian has prompted outrage with his anti-Jewish comments, one of his latest being quips about gas chambers, and anti-racism protests have been planned around his upcoming shows.

Government spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said there would clearly be a threat to public order around the first leg of the planned tour, due to start Thursday in the western city of Nantes.

A ban is complicated legally in light of France's powerful constitutional provisions on the freedom of speech. Dieudonne's lawyer, Jacques Verdier, said his client would immediately appeal against any ban on him performing.

Dieudonne has a long history of anti-Semitic comments and performances - from branding "the Jews" as "a sect, a fraud", and referring to Holocaust commemorations as "memorial pornography"; to appearing on stage dressed as a hareidi Jew making a Nazi salute.

The most recent allegations against Dieudonne came when a hidden camera recorded him making anti-Semitic comments during a performance at his theater.

Referring to French Jewish radio journalist Patrick Cohen, he said "Me, you see, when I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I think to myself: 'Gas chambers…too bad [they no longer exist]'," according to France 24.

He has also popularized the "quenelle" gesture - sometimes referred to as a "reverse Nazi salute" - which consists of a lowered straight arm salute with the other arm folded across the shoulder.

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.

Many see the gesture as a reference to the Nazis' Hitler salute, but the comedian's supporters say it is a generic “anti-establishment” gesture.

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".