Leading Arab cleric calls for calm in France

DOHA - Influential Muslim cleric Youssef al-Qaradawi has called for calm in French riots led by disaffected immigrants, many of them Muslims of North African origin.

Qaradawi, dean of an Islamic college in Qatar known to millions of Arabic speakers through a weekly show on the Al Jazeera television, also called on the French government to address the root causes of the violence.

"As Arabs and Muslims we wish for security, safety and peace for France and its friendly people, not least because France has an attitude towards Arab and Islamic issues which is just and free from American domination," the agency quoted him as saying late on Monday.

"He (Qaradawi) called on Muslim religious and political leaders in France to intensify their efforts and their calls for calm," the agency said.

"He called on the French government to deal with the situation not only from a security perspective, but also use dialogue with religious and political leaders to treat the real reasons behind the deteriorating conditions of (minority) communities in France."

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, also said it was monitoring the riots and called on the French government to "put an end to these acts of destruction and vandalism".

The state-run Saudi Press Agency said King Abdullah made the comments in a telephone call with French President Jacques Chirac.

France's conservative government has struggled to respond to two weeks of overnight rioting by youths frustrated over unemployment, harsh treatment by police and racism.

Qaradawi often addresses the situation of Muslim communities living in Western countries in his Al Jazeera appearances.

Though seen as a moderate in the Arab world, pro-Israeli groups in the West have attacked him for backing Palestinian suicide bombings and attacks on Israeli civilian targets.

- REUTERS

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