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Five in court over Corsica beach fight as France's burkini row rumbles on

Tunisian women, one (R) wearing a burkini
Tunisian women, one (R) wearing a burkini AFP/FETHI BELAID

Five people were to appear in court over Saturday's fight on a Corsican beach on Thursday, as France's row over the burkini, which allegedly sparked the clash, rumbled on. The mayor of one of the towns that has banned the all-covering beachwear has said it is an act of appeasement.

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Three brothers of north African origin have been charged with "armed violence" and kept in detention on Wednesday, while two villagers were charged with "violence as part of a group" and released.

They were all to appear in court on Thursday.

Public prosecutor Nicolas Bessone blamed the north African men and their families for starting the fight, which ended in their cars being burnt and claims of one man being stabbed with a harpoon, because they wanted to "privatise the beach".

They had "thrown stones near other people to intimidate them" and threatened and insulted teenagers who were on the beach, leading to an "altercation" between "a youth from the village and the male members of this family".

"From then on, the two versions are completely opposed," he said.

Although the teenagers claimed that the fight began after over a tourist the north Africans believed was taking photos of women in burkinis, leading Socialist mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni to ban the garment on Monday, Bessone did not mention the garment.

Conflicting accounts of beach battle

For the first time one of the north Africans has given their version of the incident to the Mediapart investigative website and it does indeed vary radically from previously published accounts.

"Everything was going OK until the young people started to call us 'dirty Arabs' and shouting 'Allahu akbar' while taking photos," the man, who did not give his name, told Mediapart.

He claims that they decided to leave and were assaulted by man wielding baseball bats in the carpark.

"We stayed in the same place for five hours," he said. "People were throwing pebbles. They burnt our cars in front of the gendarmes who did nothing to stop them."

None of the women wearing a burkini and only one had a headscarf, according to the man's account.

Political storm continues.

The mayor of one of the six local councils to ban the burka on Wednesday described the move as an effort at "appeasement".

Women in burkinis "attract looks, they can feel stigmatised and that can provoke tension", Leucate mayor Michel Py said after signing the bylaw, although he went on to declare that they were violating the "principle of secularism".

Leucate is home to one of France's largest nudist resorts.

Following Prime Minister Manuel Valls's support for the local bans, while saying there would be no national legislation, several mainstream right politicians have weighed into the debate.

Jean-François Copé, the former president of the Republicans party, called the burkini "an umpteenth provocation by the Islamist fundamentalists" and called for it to be banned at national level.

The party's security spokesperson, Bruno Beschizzia, accused Valls of 'leaving mayors in no man's land" and called for a debate in parliament.

Angered by coverage in the English-speaking media, Republicans MP Jacques Myard accused the "Anglo-Saxon press" of "sacrcasm" and "anti-French jibes" and warned that "after the veil [hijab headscarf] and the burkini will come other demands which, if we give in from weakness and fear, will lead to the Balkanisation of the nation and communities that are more and more hostile to each other".

To read our coverage of France's burka ban click here

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