France preparing for vengeance after Prophet cartoons published
France stepped up security at its embassies across the Muslim world yesterday after the latest issue of provocative weekly Charlie Hebdo, whose offices were firebombed last year, raised concerns that the nation could face violent protests.
The decision came as hundreds of Pakistanis angry at the anti-Islam film clashed with police in the capital Islamabad, the most violent show of anger in a day that saw other demonstrations in Indonesia, Iran and Afghanistan.
The vulgar depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in the American-made film has angered Muslims across the world, with many taking to the streets to rally.
The protests came as, in Pakistan, a crowd of more than 1,000 people tried to make their way to the US Embassy inside a guarded enclave that houses embassies and government offices.
Riot police used tear gas and batons to keep stone-throwing demonstrators away, and hundreds of shipping containers were used to block off the area. Some protesters were students affiliated with the Islamist hardline Jamaat-e-Islami party.
The demonstrations are expected to grow in Pakistan today, the traditional day of prayer in the Muslim world. The Pakistani government has called a national holiday to allow people to come out and demonstrate peacefully against the film, a decision which has drawn rare words of praise from the Pakistani Taliban, which is usually at war with the government.
A spokesman for the militant group said it welcomed the decision but also thought the government should expel all American diplomats.
Violence over the amateurish film, which portrays the prophet as a fraud, womaniser and child molester, has left at least 30 people in seven countries dead, including the American ambassador to Libya. Two people have died in Pakistan.
In Indonesia, the US consulate in the country’s third-largest city of Medan shut its doors for a second day because of demonstrations.
About 50 students from an Islamic university gathered in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province. They burned tyres and forced a McDonald’s restaurant to close. The door was later covered with a sign saying, “This must be closed as a symbol of our protest of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ made in the US,” referring to the title of the film.
In Iran, hundreds of students and clerics gathered outside the French embassy in Tehran to protest at the French publication of the caricatures of the Mohammed.
Protesters chanted “Death to France” and “Down with the US” and burned the flags of the US and Israel. The demonstration ended after two hours.
In Kabul, a few hundred people demonstrated against the film, chanting ant-American slogans before dispersing peacefully.
Arab League chief Nabil Elarabi has called the French cartoons “provocative and disgraceful” and said their publication added complexity to an already inflamed situation.
A lawsuit was filed against Charlie Hebdo hours after the issue hit new-stands, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, though it would not say who filed it. The magazine also said its website had been hacked.
The French government has ordered its embassies, cultural centres, schools and other official sites to close today – the Muslim holy day – in 20 countries. It also shut down its embassy and the French school in Tunisia after last week’s protests.