Hundreds of thousands of Chechens protest against Mohammad cartoons

Kremlin may see protest as venting pressure from Russia’s Muslims after similar rally banned in Moscow

Chechen Muslims gather in the regional capital of Grozny to take part in a protest rally  against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.  Photograph: Musa Sadulayev/AP

Chechen Muslims gather in the regional capital of Grozny to take part in a protest rally against the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Photograph: Musa Sadulayev/AP

 

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested in Russia’s Chechnya region against what its Kremlin-backed leader called the “vulgar and immoral” cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Mixing pro-Islamic chants and anti-western rhetoric, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticised Europe to chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as the protesters stood along the main thoroughfare of Chechnya’s capital, Grozny. Some carried signs declaring “I love my Prophet Muhammad” in English and others waved flags, as security service helicopters flew overhead and police stood by.

In a sign it had President Vladimir Putin’s backing, the rally was shown live on state television. The Kremlin may see the protest as a way to vent pressure from Russia’s Muslims after a similar rally was banned in Moscow.

“If needed, we are ready to die to stop anyone who thinks that you can irresponsibly defile the name of the prophet,” Mr Kadyrov said, wiping away tears on stage. “You and I see how European journalists and politicians under false slogans about free speech and democracy proclaim the freedom to be vulgar, rude and insult the religious feelings of hundreds of millions of believers,” he added.

The rally ended when a call to prayer was blasted over loudspeakers. Charlie Hebdo published a picture of Muhammad weeping on its cover last week after gunmen stormed its offices, killing 12 people.

Demonstrations have taken place in several Muslim countries since then, some turning violent. French president François Hollande said protesters did not understand France’s attachment to freedom of speech.

Russia’s interior ministry said 800,000 people attended the rally – about 60 per cent of Chechnya’s population. Witnesses put the number at several hundred thousand.

Mr Kadyrov is barred from the United States, for alleged human rights abuses, and the European Union, under sanctions related to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. He has used rallies before to demonstrate loyalty to Mr Putin, though some say they are forced to attend.

He is fighting against an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamist state in the North Caucasus and depends on Russian money and security forces to maintain an uneasy peace. – (Reuters)