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Hundreds of Muslims on Friday defied a new French ban on outdoor group prayer, filling the streets and sidewalks of  some neighborhoods to kneel on prayer rugs and observe the Islamic requirement for five-times-daily prayer while facing Mecca.

The ban came into effect on Friday, which is the Muslim weekly holy day — the equivalent of the Sabbath for Jews and Sunday for Christians.

The French government announced Thursday it was prohibiting group prayers in public areas. Such mass prayers have blocked sidewalks and halted traffic around French mosques. Why such a ban?

Officials had pledged to enforce the ban beginning Friday.

At least 200 Muslims ignored the ban in the neighborhood of La Goutte d’Or, the French newspaper Le Parisien reported. Other Friday prayers also occurred as usual — with pedestrian and vehicular traffic coming to halt. There were no reports of arrests.

The New York Post reported that when French interior minister Claude Gueant announced the ban, he said he had nothing against Islam. “Street prayers must stop because they hurt the feelings of many of our compatriots who are shocked by the occupation of the public space for a religious practice.”

The ban angered some French Muslim leaders. Others were cooperating with local officials to find acceptable venues for group prayers — instead of using public sidewalks and traffic lanes.  From Paris to Marseille, Friday’s midday prayers were scheduled in disused barracks and other temporary buildings. Authorities in the southern city of Marseille on Thursday said they would provide a 1,000-square-metre building for Friday prayers.

France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim population, in April banned the face-covering burqa and barred schoolgirls from wearing head-scarves in public school classrooms.

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