France defends 'freedom of expression'

Protests against Charlie Hebdo hit Middle East, Asia and Africa. Five killed in violent clashes in Niger; photographer injured in Pakistan 

Tulle (France): French President Francois Hollande stressed on Saturday that France had “principles, values, notably freedom of expression” after violent protests against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo took place in Niger and Pakistan. Hollande recalled that “we have supported these countries in their fight against terrorism.”

Somali protesters chant slogans holding placards reading ‘I am a Muslim, and I love my Prophet’ in Mogadishu, yesterday. Pic/afp

On Friday, thousands across the world demonstrated against the magazine and violent clashes erupted in Niger and Pakistan as Muslims vented fury over a new Prophet Muhammad cartoon published by the French magazine.
Four people were killed and 45 injured in protests in Niger’s second city of Zinder that turned violent with demonstrators ransacking three churches and torching the French cultural centre.

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 a photographer of a leading news agency, who was shot in the back.

Right to publish
Washington condemned the violence, stressing the “universal” right of the press to freely publish any kind of information. “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 Muhammad cartoon published on Wednesday by the French satirical weekly could fuel hatred.

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

On the Muslim day of prayers, thousands flooded the streets of Bamako, Mali 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”.

Francoise Hollande, French President
Francoise Hollande, French President

Clashes and riot
There were clashes between protesters and riot police in Algiers, where 3,000 marchers chanted, “We are all Muhammad”, while some shouted their support for the Islamist Kouachi brothers. Palestinians demonstrated quietly in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, some with banners reading “Islam is a religion of peace!”

Meanwhile 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!”

Qatar and Bahrain had sent representatives to a massive march in Paris last Sunday in support of free  speech, Hollande and many other world leaders, including Muslims.

High alert

Brussels: Armed soldiers fanned out to guard possible terror targets across Belgium as authorities rushed to thwart more attacks by people with links to Mideast Islamic extremists, a day after anti-terror raids netted dozens of suspects across Western Europe.

Security has been tightened in several European countries after last week’s attacks in Paris left 17
people dead.

More than 20 people have been arrested in Belgium, France and Germany. Belgium has joined France in deploying troops alongside the police.

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