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Dieudonne M’bala M’bala: French anti-Semites’ favorite comedian

PARIS, France — Seated on a darkened stage, comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala turns his attention to a Jewish journalist who criticized his shows.

"When I hear talk of Patrick Cohen, I say to myself, you know, the gas chambers..."

There's a moment's pause. M'bala M'bala looks blank, raises an eyebrow. His audience titters, waiting for the punchline.

"A pity," he concludes as laugher echoes around the theater.

M'bala M'bala's Holocaust "humor" has forced its way to the top of the French political agenda as government efforts to ban his performances are triggering an impassioned debate about the limits of free speech.

The comedian’s popularity, particularly among disaffected big-city youth, is provoking wider concerns about anti-Semitism in some parts of French society.

Those worries led President Francois Hollande Tuesday to demand the authorities be "vigilant and inflexible" when "confronted by all attacks on the principles of the Republic, by racism, by anti-Semitism, by threats to public order provoked by outrageous provocation."

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