Thousands across the Muslim world protest over French cartoons

Thousands across the Muslim world protest over French cartoons
Supporters of the Muslims Students Organization burn a representation of a French national flag and defaced images of French President Emmanuel Macron during a protest against the president and against the publishing of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad they deem blasphemous in Karachi, Pakistan, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. Muslims have been calling for both protests and a boycott of French goods in response to France’s stance on caricatures of Islam’s most revered prophet. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

Thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, have poured out of Friday prayer services to join anti-France protests after the French president vowed to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad.

Demonstrations in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad turned violent as 2,000 people who tried to march towards the French embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons.

Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes. Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police and authorities deployed more security forces to protect the embassy.

In the eastern city of Lahore, thousands of worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets chanting anti-France slogans, raising banners and clogging major roads en route to a Sufi shrine.

Protesters in Lahore (KM Chaudary/AP)

In Multan, a city in Punjab province, thousands more torched an effigy of Mr Macron and called on Pakistan to sever ties with France and boycott French goods.

The protests come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French teacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.

Those images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the anger of Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous.

On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man carrying a copy of the Koran killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

A few hundred demonstrators in Lebanon’s capital Beirut flocked toward the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, but found their way blocked by lines of police in riot gear.

Protesters throw stones in Beirut (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Waving black and white flags with Islamist insignia, the Sunni Islamist activists cried: “At your service, oh prophet of God.” Some threw stones at police who responded with smoke and tear gas.

The sight of anti-France protests in Lebanon is an embarrassment for prime minister-designate Saad Hariri, who is trying to form a new government that would implement a French plan for reform.

France, Lebanon’s former colonial ruler, has been helping the country chart a course out of its spiralling economic and financial crisis.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians protested against Mr Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, chanting: “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad.”

Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.

Palestinians chant slogans in Jerusalem (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Scores more turned out in the Gaza Strip, where the militant Hamas group organised anti-France rallies at mosques across the territory that it controls.

One protester, who identified himself as Abu Huzayfa, equivocated when asked about recent attacks in France in retribution for the cartoons.

“We don’t target innocents,” he said. “But those who directly insult our prophet will shoulder the responsibility.”

Cries of “Death to France” rang out in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and several other provinces as thousands filled the streets.

Demonstrators trampled on portraits of Mr Macron and called on Afghan leaders to shut down the French embassy, halt French imports and ban French citizens from visiting the country.

In western Herat province, protesters hoisted an effigy of Mr Macron on a crane and set it alight.

Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the leader of Hezb-i-Islami, an Islamist party, warned Mr Macron that if he does not “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible”.

Muslims also rallied outside the Middle East, with a huge crowd of 50,000 in Bangladesh’s capital of Dhaka burning effigies of Mr Macron and holding signs that read “Say no to Islamophobia”, “Stop racism” and “Boycott French products”.

Several hundred protested peacefully in Ethiopia’s capital after Friday prayers.

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