French flags torched at Charlie Hebdo protests worldwide

Boureima Hama, AFP | Smoke billows in a street as people demonstrate against French weekly Charlie Hebdo's publication of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed near the grand mosque in Niger’s capital Niamey

At least five people were killed on Saturday during a second day of unrest in Niger, as French citizens were warned to stay indoors amid anger in several Muslim countries over a Prophet Mohammed cartoon published by Charlie Hebdo this week.


Police fired teargas at crowds of stone-throwing youths, who set fire to churches and looted shops in Niger’s capital Niamey.

Moussa Kaka, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Niamey, reported that at least five people had been killed in the violence, citing Niger’s presidency.

“President [Mahamadou Issoufou] has condemned the deaths of five people in Niamey today, four of whom died in burned churches and one woman who died in a bar,” Kaka said, adding that 23 churches had been torched. “The president said that those responsible will be identified and punished.”

The female victim is believed to have been suffocated by teargas and smoke, police sources told Reuters. A police station was also attacked and at least two police cars burned.

Earlier in the day, the French embassy in Niamey warned its citizens to stay indoors after rioters ransacked several French-linked businesses, including telephone kiosks run by Orange.

The unrest came a day after at least four people were killed and 45 others were injured in protests in Niger's second largest city Zinder, with demonstrators ransacking three churches and torching the French cultural centre.

"We've never seen that in living memory in Zinder," a local administration official said. "It's a black Friday."

There was also bloodshed in Karachi, Pakistan, where three people were injured when protesters clashed with police outside the French consulate, officials said. Among them was an AFP photographer, who was shot in the back.

France defends freedom of expression

In response to the unrest, French President François Hollande underlined his country’s commitment to freedom of expression.

“We’ve supported these countries in the fight against terrorism,” Hollande said during a visit to the southern city of Tulle, traditionally his political fiefdom. “I still want to express my solidarity (towards them), but at the same time France has principles and values, in particular freedom of expression.”

He added that anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters do not understand France’s “attachment to freedom of speech”.

Washington also condemned the violence, stressing the "universal" right of the press to publish any kind of information freely.

"No act of legitimate journalism, however offensive some might find it, justifies an act of violence," said State Department spokesman Jeffrey Rathke.

As protesters in Dakar and Mauritania torched French flags, Qatar and Bahrain warned that the new Prophet Mohammed cartoon published Wednesday by the French satirical weekly could fuel hatred.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo features a cartoon of Mohammed on its cover holding a "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) sign under the headline "All is forgiven."

It was the first issue since brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi gunned down 12 people in an attack on the magazine's Paris offices on January 7.

Distributor MLP said the edition had sold 1.9 million copies so far, with a total of five million to be printed, compared with its usual sales of around 60,000. Newsstands in France quickly sold out of the issue in the wake of the attacks.

The image has angered many Muslims as any depictions of Mohammed are considered by some to be offensive.

On the Muslim weekly day of prayers, thousands flooded the streets of Bamako Friday in response to calls by leading clerics and Mali's main Islamic body, chanting "Hands off my prophet" and "I am Muslim and I love my prophet."

In Jordan's Amman, around 2,500 protesters set off from Al-Husseini mosque under tight security, holding banners that read "insulting the prophet is global terrorism".

There were clashes between protesters and riot police in Algiers, where up to 3,000 marchers chanted "We are all Mohammed," with some also shouting their support for the Kouachi brothers.

French flags torched

AFP photographer Asif Hassan, a policeman and a local TV cameraman were injured in Karachi when clashes broke out there between police and protesters.

A police official said the violence began when authorities prevented some 350 protesters from approaching the French consulate in the sprawling port city.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, protesters in Peshawar and Multan burned French flags on the streets while rallies were also held in Islamabad and Lahore.

In Dakar, the capital of Senegal, police fired tear gas grenades to disperse about 1,000 protesters who chanted "Allahu Akbar" and torched a French flag.

In Nouakchott in Mauritania, thousands marched chanting, "We are here to defend the prophet." Some set fire to a French flag after security forces prevented them from reaching France's embassy, witnesses said.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz addressed the marchers, condemning the controversial cartoon as "an attack on our religion and on all religions".

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated quietly in Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, some with banners reading "Islam is a religion of peace!"

In Khartoum, hundreds poured out of the Grand Mosque and marched across the adjacent square, chanting "Expel the French ambassador. Victory to the Prophet of God!"

In Lebanon's flashpoint city of Tripoli, 70 people marched with banners bearing the name of the prophet and chanting.

Prayer leader Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahimi addressed hundreds of worshippers in Baddawi, on the outskirts of the city, saying: "May God punish this newspaper and those who back it."

Protests also erupted in areas of conflict-hit Syria held by rebels and jihadists with demonstrators demanding "respect for religions", said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A protest in Tehran was cancelled, with no official reason given, as senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Ali Movahedi Kermani told worshippers the cartoon's publication amounted to "savagery".

Qatar branded the drawing as "offensive". The cartoon was reprinted by several European papers in a show of solidarity with the victims of last week's attack.

"These disgraceful actions are in the interest of nobody and will only fuel hatred and anger," the foreign ministry warned.

Bahrain's foreign ministry echoed that, saying publication of such cartoons "will create fertile ground for the spread of hatred and terrorism". Charlie Hebdo's latest cartoon is "disgraceful" and no more than attempt to provoke Muslims and mock their beliefs, it said.

But both Qatar and Bahrain sent representatives to a massive march in Paris last Sunday in support of free speech and against the terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, standing alongside Hollande and many other world leaders in a show of solidarity.


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