Trial opens over Corsica 'burkini' clashes

Prosecutor of Bastia Nicolas Bessone (C) speaks with lawyers before moving the trial of two residents of Sisco and three Moroccan brothers for their alleged involvement in a violent brawl on August 13 (AFP Photo/Pascal Pochard Casabianca)

Bastia (France) (AFP) - Five men went on trial in Corsica on Thursday over a mass beach brawl on the French Mediterranean island last month that reportedly began after tourists took pictures of Muslim bathers.

The violence in Sisco, in the island's north, left five people injured, prompting the mayor of the village to ban the Islamic burkini swimsuit initially thought to have been at the centre of the row.

Around 100 police were deployed to quell the August 13 clashes between locals and families of North African origin from another part of the island.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the court in Bastia on Thursday to support two local men facing charges over the incident alongside three brothers of Moroccan origin.

Only one of the three brothers was present in court, the other two telling their lawyers they feared for their safety following several anti-Islam demonstrations and attacks on the island.

The clashes came amid heightened tension in France after a string of attacks claimed by the Islamic State group, including the July 14 massacre in the southern city of Nice when a Tunisian ploughed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day, killing 86 people.

In Corsica last December, angry protesters vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Koran after an assault on firefighters that was blamed on local youths of Arab origin.

Sisco is 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 the Council of State allowed Sisco to keep its burkini ban, saying it was justified on public order grounds -- even though prosecutors ruled out any connection between the beach brawl and the full-body swimsuit.

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

He has told AFP that he brought in the ban because he "risked having deaths on my hands".

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