Abd Al-Qadir Bouziane, 52, imam of a mosque in the Lyon suburb of Venissieux in eastern France, told the monthly Lyon Mag the Quran allowed husbands to beat unfaithful spouses as long as they did not strike them on the face.

  

The Interior Ministry said Bouziane was arrested on Tuesday afternoon and an expulsion order against him - which was issued on 26 February, but not publicised at the time - would be applied immediately. Bouziane has lived in France since 1979.

   

"The government cannot tolerate that remarks are made publicly against human rights and dignity, especially the dignity of women, or that there are calls to hate or violence or apologies for terrorism," it said.

 

Earlier expulsions

   

France, whose five million Muslims make up Europe's largest Islamic minority, expelled a preacher to his native Algeria last week for preaching radical Islam and defending the 11 March Madrid train bombs that killed 191 people.

   

Three Turkish imams have also been expelled this year.

  

After his interview caused an uproar in Lyon, Bouziane told journalists that he was only explaining what the Quran said. "Religion says this and the law says that, but I was never against the law," he said before his arrest.

 

"These are comments nobody can accept"

Laid Bendidi,
vice-chairman, regional Muslim council, Lyon

Dalil Boubakeur, the moderate head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, declared Islam was not a religion that favoured beating women, but also denounced what he called a "media witchhunt against ignorant and frustrated imams".

   

"These are comments nobody can accept," said Laid Bendidi, vice-chairman of the regional Muslim council in Lyon. "He forgot he lives in a free, tolerant and democratic country."

   

Venissieux's mayor Andre Gerin rang an alarm bell at the weekend after the interview appeared, urging France's justice and interior ministers to investigate Bouziane's preaching.

 

Justice Minister Dominique Perben gave the first official reaction on Tuesday morning, telling France 2 television: "This man will have to explain his statements to a court."

   

Many mosques in France get imams from Arab states, a policy French authorities and moderate French Muslims oppose as a potential open door to radical Islam. But there are too few imams educated in France to staff all mosques.

   

In the interview, Bouziane openly identified himself as a salafist, or strict fundamentalist, but repeatedly denounced "terrorism" and denied he supported radical political Islam.