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Police Arrest 30 People in Cinema Arson Case

October 25, 1988 GMT

PARIS (AP) _ Investigators detained 37 people Tuesday for questioning in the arson attack on a Left Bank theater showing Martin Scorsese’s ″Last Temptation of Christ,″ police sources said. All but seven later were released.

The fire was the latest event in a campaign of violence aimed at scaring spectators and driving the movie out of French cinemas. Interior Minister Pierre Joxe called the violence ″reminiscent of the worst moments of the Inquisition.″

Thirteen people were injured in the Saturday night blaze at the St. Michel theater.

Police sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the arrests came after early morning raids in the homes of people connected to an ″extreme- right milieu.″ Police released all but seven of those arrested Thursday night.

They said seven people remained in custody did not elaborate.

They were not immediately charged, and their names were not disclosed. Under French law they can be held for questioning for 48 hours.

Several hundred people, including government officials, religious leaders and film directors, demonstrated in support of the film Monday in front of the damaged cinema.

The film opened in 17 Paris theaters on Sept. 28, but remains in only one city cinema. A spokeswoman at UIP, the French distributor, said the film had been running in about 30 cities before the weekend attack, but only 10 afterward.

Moviegoers have encountered fires, stink bombs, firebombs and tear gas.

″We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by such acts,″ said Culture Minister Jack Lang.

Roman Catholic bishops have criticized the film, but refused to participate in public demonstrations saying they did not support censorship.

Traditionalist Roman Catholic groups, however, have staged protests and urged the government to ban the movie. Some of those groups are linked to extreme-right politicians.

Interior Minister Joxe called those responsible for the fire ″crazy fundamentalists.″

Several public protests to the film have been led by supporters of Abbot Philippe Laguerie, head of the St. Nicolas du Chardonnet parish, a stronghold of traditionalist Roman Catholic followers of rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Laguerie condemned the cinema fire but said in a sermon Sunday that Scorsese’s ″blasphemous and ignominious film″ was to blame.

Authorities also have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the violence.

In Lyon, protesters threw tear gas at moviegoers waiting to buy tickets and assaulted the cashier and projectionist.

In Nice, street fighting broke out between spectators and protesters. Theaters were vandalized in Grenoble and one in Besancon was destroyed by a firebomb. A Paris theater near the Opera was also badly damaged by fire.

Attendance throughout France plummeted and many theaters replaced ″Last Temptation″ with other movies.

″The violence definitely scared off many people,″ said Dominique Dumont, the manager of the Quatorze Juillet-Bastille theater, which ran the film for two weeks.

Dumont said he searched spectators and turned away nearly a dozen people carrying tear gas canisters.

Roman Catholic church officials advised against seeing the movie, which portrays Jesus Christ as having human passions, including a dream sequence in which he makes love with prostitute Mary Magdalene.