French braced for riots
over Muslim cartoons

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A French magazine has published crude caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, prompting the government to increase security at some of its embassies in fear of a violent Muslim backlash.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning urging French people in the Muslim world and ordered French embassies and schools abroad to close on Friday, the Muslim holy day. It also ordered the immediate closure of the French Embassy and the French school in Tunisia.

France has defended the right of magazine Charlie Hebdo to publish the cartoons, which satirised the furore over US film The Innocence of Muslims as riot police defended its offices, which were firebombed last year after it released an edition mocking radical Islam.

The amateurish satirised the furore over US film The Innocence of Muslims, which portrays the prophet as a fraud, a womaniser and a child molester, has set off violence in seven countries that has killed at least 28 people, including the US ambassador to Libya.

Government authorities and Muslim leaders urged calm in France, which has western Europe’s largest Muslim population. CFCM, an umbrella group for French Muslims, issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the caricatures and warning that “in a very tense context, it risks exacerbating tensions and provoking reactions”.

It urged French Muslims to “not cede to provocation and ... express their indignation in peace via legal means.”

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said organisers of a demonstration planned for Saturday against Innocence of Muslims will not receive police authorisation.

Paris prosecutors have opened an investigation into an unauthorised protest last Saturday around the US Embassy that drew about 150 people and led to scores of arrests.

The small-circulation weekly Charlie Hebdo often ridicules the sensitivity around Mohammed. Charlie Hebdo’s chief editor, said: “I live under French law; I don’t live under Koranic law.”

The prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed in France, but cautioned that it “should be exercised with responsibility and respect.”