PARIS (AFP/Reuters) - Fresh protests erupted across the Muslim world on Friday against a US-made film and French cartoons mocking Islam, whereas France banned protests as part of a security clamp-down while prayers took place across the Muslim world.
France, where a magazine this week published a series of cartoons mocking the holy Prophet, has shut embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in 20 Muslim countries, fearing the fury will spread from US targets. French Interior Minister Manuel Valls said prefects had orders to prohibit any protest and to crack down if the ban was challenged. “There will be strictly no exceptions. Demonstrations will be banned and broken up,” he told a news conference in the southern port city of Marseille. The main body representing Muslims in France appealed for calm as the weekly Charlie Hebdo put a new print run of the cartoons on the newsstands. Mohammed Moussaoui, head of the French Muslim Council, described both the film and the cartoons as “acts of aggression” but urged French Muslims not to protest in the streets.
“I repeat the council’s call not to protest. Any protest could be hijacked and counterproductive,” he told radio RFI.
While the protests turned ugly in Pakistan, in other Muslim countries there was no serious violence during demonstrations.
In the Arab world, Sunnis and Shias took to the streets of Lebanon, while there were also demonstrations in Basra in south Iraq and in the Yemeni capital Sanaa. Tunisia had banned all demonstrations amid fears of violence and Libya’s second city Benghazi braced for rival demonstrations by a jihadist militia and its opponents. Tensions are still running high after a deadly attack on the US consulate in the city last week which left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. The White House says the FBI suspects Al-Qaeda may have been linked to the attack, but it remains unclear whether it was a pre-planned assault or whether it sprang out of a protest against the film. There were also demonstrations across Asia in Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan and Bangladesh, where about 10,000 took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the film and the French cartoons.
Hundreds of people held peaceful protests in German also. Around 800 demonstrators marched through the centre of the southwestern German city of Freiburg under the banner “I Love My Prophet”.
Freiburg was the first German city to approve such a march but imposed strict conditions including a ban on participants using outlawed slogans, carrying potentially dangerous objects or covering their faces.
Protesters hoisted signs reading “Yes to freedom of expression, no to insults” and “I am protesting against the lack of respect toward my beloved Holy Prophet”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert had earlier called for the protests to remain peaceful, saying violence was never justified in religious disputes, whether in Germany or abroad.
Also in England, around a hundred Muslim protesters gathered outside the French embassy in London on Friday, shouting slogans against the French magazine.
Protesters outside France’s embassy in London’s plush Knightsbridge district shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) and waved placards reading “Sharia for France” and “Muslims will conquer France”, an AFP reporter at the scene said. A police cordon held the demonstrators back from the embassy while around 25 women wearing niqabs, or full face-veils, protested in a separate group nearby.
Muslim elders in Greece on Friday deplored the state’s longstanding neglect of their religious rights, with one leader calling conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras a “racist” for his views on immigrants.
“We live in a country where our prime minister is a racist,” said Naim El Gadour, chairman of the Muslim Union of Greece. “During the election campaign, he said that immigrants are invaders, that we had invaded Greece,” he told a conference in Athens. The imam of Makkah also urged that laws be passed to prevent incitement of religious hatred as he reacted to the anti-Islam film and publication of cartoons of holy Prophet.
“We call on the world... to enact a code of honour and binding law to prohibit and criminalise any violation of monotheistic religions and prophets,” Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed al-Taleb said in his weekly sermon at the Grand Mosque.