February 18, 2020 / 7:35 PM / 6 months ago

Wary of 'separatism', Macron unveils curbs on foreign imams, teachers

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday he would curb the practice of foreign countries sending imams and teachers to France to crack down on what he called the risk of “separatism”.

French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a news conference after his visit to Bourtzwiller, a quarter of the city of Mulhouse, France February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Macron has so far stayed away from issues related to France’s Muslim community, the biggest in Europe, focusing instead on economic reforms.

In a much-anticipated intervention less than a month before mayoral elections, Macron said he would gradually put an end to the system in which Algeria, Morocco and Turkey send imams to France to preach in mosques.

“This end to the consular Islam system is extremely important to curb foreign influence and make sure everybody respects the laws of the republic,” he told a news conference in the eastern city of Mulhouse.

Macron said 300 imams were sent to France every year by these countries, and that those who arrived in 2020 would be the last to arrive in such numbers.

He said his government had asked the body representing Islam in France to find solutions to train imams on French soil instead, make sure they can speak French and don’t spread Islamist views.

Macron, who is constantly attacked by far-right leader Marine Le Pen on the issue of how to integrate French Muslims, also said he would end the practice of French students being taught by teachers paid by foreign governments.

France has agreements with nine countries, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, whereby their governments can send teachers to French schools to teach languages to students originally from these countries.

Macron said he had found an agreement to end the practice with all of these countries except Turkey.

“I won’t let any country, whatever it is, feed separatism,” Macron said. “You can’t have Turkish law on French soil. That can’t be.”

France has suffered major attacks by Islamist militants in recent years. Co-ordinated bombings and shootings in November 2015 at the Bataclan theater and other sites around Paris killed 130 people - the deadliest attacks in France since World War Two.

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Nick Macfie

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