Updated: Wednesday, 01 January 2014 05:36 | By Agence France-Presse

Hollande vows 'intransigence' on racism

French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday he would be "intransigent" on racism after a provocative gesture popularised by a French comedian sparked global controversy.

Hollande vows 'intransigence' on racism

This picture taken on December 31, 2013 in the western city of Rennes, shows members of a family watching France's President Francois Hollande presenting his New Year wishes during a TV broadcast on France2 TV channel

French striker Nicolas Anelka triggered a media outcry when he used the 'quenelle' gesture, performed by putting one arm across his chest and straightening the other, during a weekend football match.

Described by critics as an 'inverted Nazi salute', it was popularised by the outspoken comedian Dieudonne, who has been fined repeatedly for hate speech and racial discrimination.

"I will be intransigent in the face of any violation, in the face of racism, in the face of anti-Semitism," said Hollande in a televised New Year's address.

French law, which bans racism, is "non-negotiable", Hollande added.

His comments came a day after French prosecutors launched an investigation into whether Dieudonne was guilty of inciting racial hatred for joking about "gas chambers" while talking about a Jewish journalist.

But they also play into a broader debate about racism in France, after taunts directed at the country's black justice minister earlier this year.

Christiane Taubira, the most prominent black politician in France, suggested public taboos about racism in France may be breaking down after she was subjected to a series of public racist slurs.

A right-wing magazine, a candidate of the far-right National Front and a group of children all compared her to a monkey.

Dieudonne maintains that he is not anti-Jewish, while Anelka said that he considered the 'quenelle' gesture to be "anti-establishment" rather than anti-Semitic.

The striker faces a minimum five-match ban if the Football Association decides he is guilty of discrimination.

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