19 Sep 2012

France braced for protest over Mohammed cartoons

France will temporarily close its embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday after a French satirical magazine published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

The offices of Charlie Hebdo are being protected by riot police (pic: Reuters)

“We have indeed decided as a precautionary measure to close our premises, embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman said of the shut-down on Friday, the day of prayer across the Muslim world.

In Tunisia, where Thursday and Friday are working days and a western-style weekend is observed, French schools closed on Wednesday and will re-open on Monday. There are an estimated 30,000 French citizens living in Tunisia.

Issues of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine hit newsstands with a front cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair with several caricatures of the Prophet on its inside pages, including some of him naked.

The front page cartoon had the wheelchair-bound figure saying “You mustn’t mock” under the headline “Untouchable 2”, a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralysed rich white man and his black assistant.

Call for calm

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticised the move as a provocation and said he had ordered security beefed up at French diplomatic offices in the Muslim world.

Charlie Hebdo

“Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no,” Fabius told France Info radio. “I’m very worried… and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem.”

The government has called for restraint over the cartoons, restating the principles of free speech in France and urging those shocked by the images to take action through the courts.

Muslim leaders in France, which has Europe’s largest Muslim population, have appealed for calm.

The publication came amid widespread outrage over a short film that mocks the Prophet, which was made with private funds in the United States and has ignited days of sometimes deadly protests in the Arab world, Africa, Asia and some Western countries.

On Wednesday the German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that security at German embassies has been strengthened, saying: “I call on all those, especially those who rightly invoke the right to freedom of speech, to also act responsibly. The one who now puts more oil on the fire on purpose, with obvious effect, is not the greatest thinker.”

As outrage over the anti-Muslim film continues to fuel violence and protests across the Islamic world, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the authorities had rejected a request to hold a march against the film in Paris.

“There is no reason for us to allow conflicts that do not concern France to enter our country,” Mr Ayrault told RTL radio.

Islamabad (Reuters)
Jakarta (Reuters)
Peshawar (Reuters)
Tyre, southern Lebanon
Karachi (Reuters)
Jalalabad (Reuters)
Shuafat refugee camp (Reuters)
Kabul (Reuters)
Srinagar (Reuters)
Chennai (Reuters)