Rallies held in France to slam Islamophobia

Over 10,000 people turned out north of Paris on Sunday for a march against Islamophobia. 

It was called following last month's attack on a mosque in the southern French city of Bayonne by an 84-year-old man, a former far-right activist, who shot and wounded two men.

Many of the protesters carried placards denouncing attacks on Islam, a number of women taking part wore traditional Muslim veils (Hijab), while others had adopted veils bearing the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.

Around 13,500 people attended the march, according to a count carried out by the Occurence consultancy and commissioned by the news media.

The march was called by a number of individuals and organizations, including the Collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).

It also came as the debate over the veil has been revived in France and against a background of several extremist attacks in France in recent years.

"We came to sound the alarm, to say there is a level of hate you don't go beyond," one marcher, Larbi, a 35-year-old businessman, told AFP.

"We are open to criticism, but you mustn't go beyond certain limits of aggression," he added.

France has between five and six million Muslims, according to the latest studies, which makes it the second largest religion in the country -- and the largest Muslim community in Western Europe.

But France is fiercely protective of the secular principles of its constitution, banning the wearing of religious symbols in state schools, for example.

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