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France to close embassies in fear of cartoon backlash
France announced Wednesday it will close 20 embassies across the Muslim world on Friday after French weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed naked, amid growing unrest over an anti-Islamic film that has left dozens dead.
The French foreign ministry announced Wednesday that France will close 20 of its embassies in Muslim countries this Friday following the publication of controversial Prophet Mohammed cartoons by satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Major protests in the Muslim world generally take place after Friday prayers.
The illustrations, which show the Prophet Mohammed naked and refer to the incendiary US-made film which has been fueling deadly unrest among Muslim communities for over a week, hit newsstands across France on Wednesday.
The magazine's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, told reporters that the pictures, which are printed on the back page, will "shock those who will want to be shocked."
But the French government condemned the decision to go ahead with publication amid a global uprising ignited by the American anti-Islam video which ridicules the Prophet Mohammed. Dozens of people have been killed during the unrest, including the US ambassador to Libya, who was targeted at the consulate in Benghazi by suspected fundamentalists.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday that while he respects freedom of expression, he sees “no point in such a provocation.” Stressing that the French government would never encourage the cartoons’ publication, he called for “reason to prevail.” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement Tuesday saying: “In the current climate, the prime minister wishes to stress his disapproval of all excess and calls on everyone to behave responsibly.”
No backing down
It’s not the first time that Charlie Hebdo, which is celebrated for its irreverent treatment of politicians and public figures, has courted controversy with the Muslim community. In November last year the Paris offices of the paper were firebombed after it published a mocking caricature of Mohammad on its front page.
Editor Charbonnier, originally a cartoonist who uses the name Charb, told French news channel iTele on Tuesday that the paper “does caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, but when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation,” adding that if Charlie Hebdo stopped printing satirical work because of pressure or fear of offence, it would be reduced to selling 16 blank pages every week.
Representations of Allah or Mohammad are considered as blasphemous to Muslims. The main Islamic body in France, the French Muslim Council (CFCM), accused Charlie Hebdo of firing up anti-Muslim sentiment at a sensitive time.
“There is profound indignation at the publication of these cartoons,” leader Mohammed Moussaoui told FRANCE 24, describing the cartoons as “unjust” and “Islamophobic”. But Mouassoui also called on France’s Muslim community – which is the biggest in Europe – to “rise above their anger and not give in to the provocation”.
Pascal Boniface, who heads France’s International and Strategic Relations Institute (IRIS), tweeted on Wednesday morning that Charlie Hebdo “is not Islamophobic, but simply opportunist, cynical, and without scruples.”
But with calls already circulating on social networks and the internet for weekend protests over the US film that originally sparked unrest, concerns that the Charlie Hebdo cartoons could exacerbate the situation are mounting.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)