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French flag burners ‘should be punished’, says Hollande

Anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters burn a French flag in the city of Zinder, Niger, on January 16 2015
Anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters burn a French flag in the city of Zinder, Niger, on January 16 2015 AFP
4 min

Those taking part in violent anti-Charlie Hebdo protests should be "punished", President François Hollande said Saturday, as he underlined France’s commitment to free speech after an attack on the French magazine’s offices left 12 people dead.

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The magazine sparked fresh anger in several Muslim countries this week after it published a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover of its first post-attack issue, which went on sale Wednesday.

At least five people were killed during a second day of unrest in Niger’s capital Niamey on Saturday as violent mobs set fire to churches and ransacked French-linked business, including telecommunications giant Orange. At least five people had been killed the day before in protests in the country’s second-largest city, Zinder.

Demonstrations Friday in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi also turned violent, with police using teargas and water cannons against protesters outside the French consulate while demonstrators in Peshawar and Multan burned French flags in the streets.

Around 2,000 people took to the streets of Karachi again on Sunday, with some burning effigies of Hollande as well as Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, while another 5,000 turned out for a similar protest in Lahore.

Several Algerian police officers were injured in clashes with protesters in Algiers after rioting broke out at the end of an anti-French demonstration. Similar protests have erupted in Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and several other Muslim countries.

Asked on Saturday about those who burned the French tricolour, Hollande said: "They have to be punished. Because when it happens in France, it's intolerable – but it is also intolerable abroad."

"I'm thinking of countries where sometimes they don't understand what freedom of expression is because they have been deprived of it. But we have supported these countries in their fight against terrorism," said Hollande as he toured a market in Tulle, south-central France, where he was once mayor.

Hollande emphasised that France was committed to upholding the value of "freedom of expression", saying it was "non-negotiable".

In a later speech, he urged his compatriots not to let the recent terror attacks change the way they live their lives because "to do so would be to yield to terrorism".

Hollande gets poll boost after terror attacks

Touring the cheese and meat stands in the Tulle market, Hollande said his visit was "a message to show that life goes on, that we have come through the ordeal with a great deal of dignity".

"We are of course aware that there are still threats ... but life has to go on and we need to emerge even stronger. That's the best response we can give."

However, he warned that "nothing will be like it was before" the series of attacks that rocked France over three days, beginning with the massacre at Charlie Hebdo.

Hollande has received a big poll boost for his handling of the attacks with his popularity rating surging to its highest level in nearly one and a half years.

His rating has jumped to 34 percent from 24 percent before the attacks, according to a BVA poll published on Saturday.

Produced by survivors of the attack, the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo shows a cartoon of a tearful Mohammed holding a “Je suis Charlie” sign under the words “All is forgiven”.

The edition has flown off the shelves since going on sale and its publishers announced Saturday that the issue’s print run would be extended to seven million copies. Before the assault on its Paris headquarters, the magazine had a print run of just 60,000.

However, an Ifop poll published Sunday revealed that nearly half of people in France (42 percent) oppose the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, which are considered blasphemous and highly offensive by many Muslims.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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