Thousands stage anti-France protests in Bangladesh, Pakistan

Dhaka (AFP) –


Muslims in South Asia vented their fury at France on Friday and torched an effigy of President Emmanuel Macron over his recent remarks on Islam, with tens of thousands flooding the streets.

Smaller anti-France protests also took place in the Middle East after Macron's defence of the right to publish controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed -- a position that has sparked anger across the Muslim world.

France has been on edge since the beheading this month of a teacher in a Paris suburb for showing pupils the cartoons, repeatedly published by satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, in a class on free speech.

On Thursday a 21-year-old Tunisian jihadist suspect allegedly brutally killed three people at a church in the southern French city of Nice, further raising tensions across France.

Huge crowds took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the French leader after Friday prayers -- the Bangladeshi capital's second anti-France protest in five days.

"We are all soldiers of Prophet Mohammed," the crowd chanted as demonstrators called for a boycott of French goods and some burned an effigy of Macron.

Police said 12,000 people took part in the Dhaka rally, though independent observers and organisers claimed more than 40,000 marched in the city. Smaller crowds gathered outside hundreds of mosques elsewhere in the capital and around the country.

"France is insulting the world's two billion Muslims. President Macron must apologise for his crimes," said Gazi Ataur Rahman, a senior leader of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, one of the political parties which called the protests.

Around 10,000 people marched through Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, after Friday prayers in what was organised as a procession to mark the Prophet's birthday but which was charged with anti-France anger.

Another rally in Pakistan's capital grew rowdy, with stones thrown at police and tear gas fired to control the crowds.

Around 2,000 protesters in Islamabad marched towards the French embassy, pushing aside shipping containers that had been placed to block their path.

The crowed shouted "expel the French dog" and "behead the blasphemous" but were prevented from reaching the embassy by further guarded barricades.

- 'How dare they?' -

"How dare they disrespect our prophet? As a Muslim I am ready to sacrifice my head for the prophet's honour," said Rasheed Akbar, a 34 year-old trader who joined the crowd.

Small protests were also held in neighbouring Afghanistan, with thousands in the western city of Herat shouting "Death to France! Death to Macron!".

In the Lebanese capital Beirut, around 200 people protested against Macron at a rally organised by an Islamic group, and some young men clashed with police.

"France is in crisis because of Macron," read a sign held up by a protester. Another said "Islam is dear" to us.

In Jerusalem, prominent Palestinian cleric Ekrima Sabri, the sheikh of Al-Aqsa Mosque, read a statement addressed to Macron during his Friday sermon saying: "We tell the enemies of Islam... the light of Allah will cover up your words".

Palestinians rallied in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, against Macron and clashed with Israeli forces, witnesses said.

Macron's comments have prompted denunciations from several Muslim countries.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused the French president of attacking the Muslim faith and urged Muslim countries to work together to counter what he called growing Islamophobia in Europe.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Macron's defence of cartoons depeciting the prophet a "stupid act" and an "insult" to those who voted for him.

More than 40,000 took part in an anti-France demonstration in Dhaka earlier this week, and the country's embassy there has been given extra security.

In India, where the Hindu nationalist government has strongly backed Macron, leaders of the country's minority Muslim community have called for a boycott of French goods.