Muhammad cartoons printed in France


French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo today published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a move that was criticised by the French authorities and sent riot police to protect the magazine's offices.

Issues of the magazine hit newsstands with a front cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair with several caricatures of the Prophet on its inside pages, including some of him naked.

The front page cartoon had the wheelchair-bound figure saying "You mustn't mock" under the headline "Untouchable 2", a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralysed rich white man and his black assistant.

The publication came amid widespread outrage over a short film, made with private funds in the United States, that mocks the Prophet and has ignited days of sometimes deadly protests in the Arab world, Africa, Asia and some Western countries.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius criticised the move as a provocation and said he had ordered security beefed up at French diplomatic offices in the Muslim world.

"Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no," Mr Fabius told France Info radio. "I'm very worried . . . and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem."

The government has called for restraint over the cartoons, restating the principles of free speech in France and urging those shocked by the images to take action through the courts. Muslim leaders in France, which has Europe's largest Muslim population, have appealed for calm.

The French government said it was temporarily shutting down premises, including embassies and schools, in 20 countries on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.

The Arab League urged people offended by the cartoons to "control themselves" and demonstrate their rejection of the images in a peaceful manner.

In a statement, the Cairo-based Arab League of 21 Arab countries called for reconciliation and respect among cultures.

It called "on those who were hurt by those offensive drawings to control themselves and use peaceful means to firmly express their rejection of such shameful actions".

Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were firebombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad.

As outrage over the anti-Muslim film continues to fuel violence and protests across the Islamic world, French prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the authorities had rejected a request to hold a march against the film in Paris.

"There is no reason for us to allow conflicts that do not concern France to enter our country," Mr Ayrault told RTL radio. Social media had circulated calls for a protest on Saturday against the film, after police arrested about 150 people who tried to take part in an unauthorised protest near the US embassy in Paris last week.

In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people. Many Muslims consider any representation of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad offensive.


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