Security stepped up at French embassies following publication of Muhammad cartoons
Following the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad in a satirical Parisian weekly, France will temporarily close its embassies and schools in 20 countries, and will step up security in other countries.
In France, which has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe, the Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning on Wednesday urging French citizens in Muslim countries to exercise “the greatest vigilance”.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had “sent instructions to all countries where this could pose problems”. He added that security had increased in French embassies in some countries.
The French government has also ordered embassies and schools abroad to close on Friday, the Muslim holy day, as a precautionary measure in about 20 countries, according to the foreign affairs ministry.
It ordered the immediate closure of the French Embassy and the French school in Tunisia, which saw deadly protests at the US Embassy last Friday.
Fabius further defended freedom of expression, but warned that such cartoons, which played off of the anti-Islamic film The Innocence of Muslims, could be throwing “oil on the fire” and said it is up to courts to decide whether the magazine went too far.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said freedom of expression is guaranteed, but cautioned that it “should be exercised with responsibility and respect”. Ayrault refused to authorise a demonstration planned for tomorrow against the anti-Islamic video made in the US.
“This is a disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation,” Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Paris Mosque, told The Associated Press.
However, CFCM, an umbrella group for French Muslims, issued a statement for French Muslims to “not cede to provocation and […] express their indignation in peace via legal means.”
The small-circulated Parisian Charlie Hebdo magazine, which is a left-wing libertarian weekly, was firebombed last year after it released an edition that mocked Islam.
Meanwhile, France has been plunged into a new debate over the limits of free speech in a modern democracy.