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'Burkini riot' trial in Corsica ends

September 16, 2016

A criminal trial in Corsica has concluded over a beach brawl that reportedly erupted over Muslim women clad in burkini swimwear. The ensuing melee prompted the local mayor to controversially ban the modest swimsuit.

Korsika Schlägerei wegen Burkini Fotografen
Image: Getty Images/AFP/P. Pochard-Casabianca

Five men were convicted Friday for their part in an August 13 clash between Corsica locals and families of North African origin after local men began photographing Muslim women lounging in modest swimwear.

The court in Bastia sentenced French Muslim Mustapha Benhaddou to two years in prison for violent assault. His two brothers, as well as two local men the brothers had fought with on the beach, received suspended sentences and remain free.

It took about 100 police officers to quell an argument that exploded into a full-scale riot in the town of Sisco that left five people injured after local men photographed and taunted the Muslim women in full-length burkini swimsuits.

Following the violence, Sisco became one of around 30 French towns that have moved to ban the burkini, though the country's top administrative court has suspended the move in most cases.

But France's Council of State allowed Sisco to keep its burkini ban, saying it was justified on public order grounds -- even though prosecutors later downplayed any connection between the swimsuit and the ensuing argument.

Sisco's mayor, Ange-Pierre Vivoni, described the court's ruling as "a relief for me and local people."

'Burkini' a symbol of greater tensions

Frankreich Protest gegen Burkini Verbot
The burkini, which is predominantly worn by devout Muslim women, has become a target at a time when identity politics is gaining traction following deadly Islamist attacks in western EuropeImage: Reuters

Corsica's Muslim community has been on edge since December when protesters vandalized a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Koran after rumors that firefighters had been assaulted by local youths of Arabic origin.

A string of attacks inspired by the self-styled "Islamic State" including the July 14 massacre in the city of Nice when a Tunisian killed 86 people by driving a truck into a holiday crowd has left France on edge.

Troubled race relations and open debate over curbing religious expression in the name of counterterrorism has played into the hands of far-fight political parties which have made electoral gains in recent years.

Burkinis banned on 3 French beaches

jar/kms (AP, AFP)