French President Macron defends his policies despite taking anti-Muslim steps while pushing through a controversial police bill that would restrict publication of images of security officers.
French President Emmanuel Macron has denied claims that freedoms are being eroded in France under his rule as a "big lie", with controversy intensifying over a new security law and anti-Muslim crackdown.
Striking criticism of Macron appeared in international media after he announced anti-Muslim steps and his government tried to push through a security bill that would restrict the publication of images of police.
"I cannot let it be said that we are reducing freedoms in France," Macron told the online news portal Brut in a televised interview, complaining that France had been "caricatured" in the debate over the security legislation.
"It's a big lie," he added, hours after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called Macron "trouble" and urged the French to "get rid" of him as soon as possible.
France's anti-Muslim policies
Some commentaries in English-language media have accused Macron of targeting all Muslims following a spate of attacks in the last weeks.
But Macron insisted he was not singling out Muslims, rather simply defending the country's secular system.
"France has no problem with Islam... we are a country that has always had a dialogue."
But, he emphasised: "We founded our Republic on the separation of politics and religion."
Non-white people controlled more
Social tensions over the security law soared after the police beating of black music producer Michel Zecler which resulted in four police being charged and fed into sometimes violent protests in Paris last weekend.
Macron acknowledged "there are police who are violent" and insisted that "they need to be punished".
He acknowledged that "when you have a skin colour that is not white, you are controlled much more (by police). You are identified as a problem factor. And that cannot be justified."
But he also lashed out at the violence against police at last weekend's rally in Paris, which he blamed on "crazy people".
Macron's interview with Brut, a video-based news portal aimed at young people, is seen as an attempt by the president to win credibility with youth particularly concerned by the actions of the French police.
Lawmakers from Macron's ruling LREM party said on Monday they would propose a "complete rewrite" of part of the draft security law.
UK groups decry anti-Muslim drive
Meanwhile, British advocacy groups have condemned France's decision to shut down the anti-racism group Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF).
While announcing the move on Wednesday, Gerald Darmanin, France's interior minister, accused the CCIF of carrying out "Islamist propaganda" for several years, allegations the group has vehemently refuted.
In a statement in response, London-based group CAGE said the decision "exposes the French state's brazen hypocrisy in advocating 'free speech' while legally denying Muslims the freedom to speak and organise."
CAGE is an advocacy organisation that campaigns for "due process, the rule of law, and an end to the injustices of the War on Terror."
The statement said the CCIF was not only banned but its staff "indefinitely blacklisted," meaning they cannot set up new groups or speak publicly.
"Their freedom of association and expression has been suspended indefinitely," CAGE said, adding that the decision followed "a series of raids on mosques, Islamic schools, and homes."
Raids on mosques
The Arab Organization for Human Rights in the UK (AOHR UK) also condemned the French government's move to start inspections at mosques as part of its "campaign against separatism."
"AOHR UK pointed out that the French government's policies towards Arabs and Muslims are in line with the policies of the extreme right, which calls for the closure of mosques and the imposition of strict control on Muslims, which fuels hostility to Muslims and increases attacks on them," read a statement issued on Thursday.