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France expels another radical Islamic cleric

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VENISSIEUX, France — This town's largest mosque is temporarily leaderless, its chief cleric having been expelled from France last week for advocating wife beating, stoning and other medieval Islamic views at odds with the principles of the modern French state.

The cleric, Abdelkader Bouziane, was the fifth cleric expelled from France this year on charges of spreading a dangerously divisive brand of radical Islam. The country has kicked out dozens since 2001.

France has long maintained one of the strictest antiterrorism programs in Europe, in part because the country was hit early by Islamist terror and because it has the largest Muslim population on the Continent. Many other countries in Europe have been far more tolerant in allowing radical discourse to flourish in mosques.

But making such a hardline stance stick is difficult, even in a country that has been more willing than most of its European neighbors to limit free speech in the interest of a calm and cohesive society.

Bouziane, 52, won an appeal that would allow him to return from his native Algeria to France, despite the Interior Ministry's presentation to the court of evidence that Bouziane has links to groups that support terrorism.

The expulsion and possible return of Bouziane highlight a thorny issue that most countries across Europe are facing as they struggle to fulfill the needs of their growing Muslim populations and protect traditional civil liberties while trying to curb the spread of extremist Islamic thought.

Part of the problem is a dearth of domestically trained clerics to lead congregations of European-born Muslims. As a result, mosques like that in Venissieux often have to rely on imported imams or self-proclaimed clerics who espouse fundamentalist beliefs that grate against Europe's more tolerant societies.

Only about 10 percent of the imams preaching in France's mosques and prayer rooms are citizens, and half do not even speak French, according to the Interior Ministry.