France has closed its embassies in 20 countries after the publication of naked cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in a satirical magazine.
The decision by the title Charlie Hebdo is threatening to further aggravate the widespread anger throughout the Islamic world which was caused by last week’s release of a low budget American film seen as anti-Islam.
The French government said it had urged the magazine not to publish the caricatures. Officials say the decision to go-ahead is a provocation: “Given the current international context, every individual must be aware of the consequences of their actions. That’s why the government will be extremely vigilant about any incident that might affect public order,” said French Interior Minister Manuel Valls.
Riot police were immediately sent to protect the magazine’s Paris offices – which were firebombed last November after a previous cartoon of the Prophet was published.
Last weekend police officers had to cut short an angry protest in the capital which echoed similar condemnation from Muslim groups around the world.
The Rector of Paris’ Grand Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, has tried to calm anger: “I call on our brothers, sisters, and our community not to follow false leaders like sheep. We are extremely committed to the unity of France, public order and respect for beliefs whether they are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or any other faith,” he said.
The French government says it will keep embassies shut on Friday too in case protests breakout after Muslim prayers. Gianni Magi, the Euronews correspondent in the French capital said:
“Freedom of speech or provocation? The publication of these cartoons increases the chance of possible acts of violence and intolerance, in France and throughout the world.”