A former French general was one of the anti-immigration activists arrested at a small Pegida protest in Calais yesterday, it has emerged. General Christian Piquemal, who was in charge of the famous French Foreign Legion during the 1990s, was one of 20 protesters arrested after scuffles broke out during an anti-Islam rally near the Jungle, a makeshift migrant camp in northern France.
French authorities had previously banned the rally, which was one of several held across the continent in protest at what the far-right sees as the "Islamisation" of Europe. Around 150 protesters representing Pegida, an anti-Islam protest group with branches all over Europe, arrived in Calais, despite a moratorium from the French government on all protests in the town.
Police warned attendees of Saturday's protest to disperse from the town centre after they started waving the French flag and singing the national anthem, the Marseillaise. Once scuffles broke out, police in riot gear attempted to disperse protesters with tear gas.
Gen Piquemal, who had been due to address the small crowd, said he was "shocked by the behaviour of the police".
"There are things that have to be respected, including the national anthem when it is sung," he told police officers, according to the BBC.
"I expected you to be at attention, singing with us, but not one of you opened your mouth. And this is France – the great France, the eternal France, which used to be the lighthouse of the world. It is in decline. Decadent. I regret that you received these orders. You are forced to obey your orders, but you don't have to behave this way in the field."
Violence carried out against the thousands of migrants and refugees currently live in the Jungle is apparently escalating. The BBC said that police are investigating at least six attacks on camp residents, with legal teams on site describing violence as "endemic". One legal volunteer says she knows of 20 attacks in just the last two weeks – several using metal bars to beat people. Many migrants are too afraid to make reports to police.
Pegida protests were held on Saturday across Europe. Former EDL leader Tommy Robinson led between 100-200 supporters on a silent march on the outskirts of Birmingham, a city which has the largest Muslim population in Britain. Thousands gathered at rallies in Germany, Poland, Ireland and the Czech Republic, as well as in many eastern European countries whose governments are more sympathetic to the anti-Islamic aims of the organisation.