France on high alert after paper publishes Mohammed cartoons
French embassies and schools will be closed in around 20 countries on Friday following the publication by a French newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, according to the Foreign Ministry.
In the meantime, France stepped up security around its embassies on Wednesday, following the cartoons’ publication by Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in the midst of a furore over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Info radio that he had given instructions that “in all countries where that (the cartoons) could cause problems, we take particular security precautions.” Fabius said he was “worried” about the fallout of the cartoons, some of which show the prophet in compromising positions.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault also announced that a planned demonstration Saturday in Paris over the film which sparked the initial protests last week, Innocence of Muslims, had been banned.
The director of the paper, whose offices were firebombed last year over Mohammed cartoons, defended the sketches, telling i-Tele channel the images would “shock those who want to be shocked in reading a paper they never read.” Security has been stepped up around the paper’s central Paris offices.
The cartoons mock both the low-budget film that triggered violent protests across the Muslim world as well as the reaction to it.
On Wednesday morning Charlie Hebdo’s website was inaccessible.
It was not clear whether it had been hacked or crumpled under the weight of people trying to view it.
Reaction to the publication poured in on social networking sites instead.
By mid-morning over 2,000 people had posted remarks on the paper’s Facebook page criticizinging or supporting the cartoons, which both Muslim and Jewish groups have condemned.
The president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, expressed “profound consternation” over the drawings which he called “insulting” to the prophet.
In a statement, the council slammed “this new Islamophobic act” and called on French Muslims “not to give into provocation.” The president of the Representative Council of the Jewish Institutions of France, Richard Prasquier said the decision to publish the cartoons, following several deaths in protests sparked by the Innocence of Muslims film, was “irresponsible.” The reaction from the government and opposition parties was mixed.
Prime Minister Ayrault expressed “disapproval of any excess” while defending freedom of expression “within the framework of the law.” Former premier Francois Fillon, who is running for the leadership of the centre-right Union for a Popular Movement, defended Charlie Hebdo.
“I defend freedom of expression and I think we must not give an inch in this area,” he told Canal+ television.