A crowd in Bangladesh burned an effigy of President Emmanuel Macron while a rally in Pakistan’s Islamabad grew rowdy, with stones thrown at police and tear gas fired to control the crowds.
Macron defended freedom of expression and condemned Islamist violence earlier this month after the beheading of a teacher in Paris who showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, prompting a backlash across the Muslim world.
French interior minister Gerald Damarnin said France – home to Europe’s largest Muslim community and hit by a string of terror attacks in recent years – was engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and more attacks were likely.
France also remains on the edge after a knife-wielding man killed three people at a church in the southern city of Nice on Thursday.
‘How dare they disrespect our prophet?’
Huge crowds took to the streets of Dhaka to condemn the French leader after Friday prayers – the Bangladeshi capital’s second anti-France protest in five days.
“We are all soldiers of Prophet Mohammed,” chanted the crowd at the city’s main protest site, where demonstrators called for a boycott of French goods and some burned an effigy of the leader.
Thousands of Muslims stage anti-France protests
<p>Protesters from an Islamist political party hold banners and shout slogans during a demonstration in Dhaka</p>
Police said 12,000 people took part in the Dhaka rally, though independent observers and organisers claimed more than 40,000 marched in the city. Smaller crowds gathered outside hundreds of mosques elsewhere in the capital and around the country.
“France is insulting the world’s two billion Muslims. President Macron must apologise for his crimes,” said Gazi Ataur Rahman, a senior leader of Islami Andolan Bangladesh, one of the political parties which called the protests.
In Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad, around 2,000 protesters marched towards the French embassy, pushing aside shipping containers that had been placed to block their path.
The crowed shouted “expel the French dog” and “behead the blasphemous” but were prevented from reaching the embassy by further guarded barricades.
“How dare they disrespect our prophet? As a Muslim I am ready to sacrifice my head for the prophet’s honour. A Muslim can sacrifice his head and can also cut the head of the blasphemous,” said Rasheed Akbar, a 34 year-old trader who joined the crowd.
Another 10,000 people marched through Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, after Friday prayers in what was organised as a procession to mark the Prophet’s birthday but which was charged with anti-France anger.
In the eastern city of Lahore, thousands of worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets, chanting anti-France slogans, raising banners and clogging major roads en route to a Sufi shrine. In Multan, thousands more torched an effigy of Macron and called on Pakistan to sever ties with France and boycott French goods.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has accused Macron of attacking the Muslim faith and called on Islamic countries to work together to counter what he called growing Islamophobia in European countries.
A few hundred demonstrators in Lebanon’s capital Beirut flocked toward the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, but found their way blocked by lines of police officers in riot gear. Waving black and white flags with Islamist insignia, the Sunni Islamist activists cried, “At your service, oh prophet of God.” Some flung stones at police who responded with smoke and tear gas.
In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians protested against Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, chanting, “With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad.” Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.
Scores more turned out in the Gaza Strip, where the militant Hamas group organized anti-France rallies at mosques across the territory that it controls.
Fathi Hammad, a Hamas official, addressed a demonstration at the Jabaliya refugee camp, vowing “to stand together to confront this criminal offensive that harms the faith of about 2 billion Muslims,” referring to depictions of the Muslim prophet. He reiterated Hamas authorities’ appeal for Palestinians to boycott all French products.
Cries of “Death to France” also rang out in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul and several other provinces as thousands filled the streets. Demonstrators trampled on portraits of Macron and called on Afghan leaders to shut down the French embassy, halt French imports and ban French citizens from visiting the country. In the country’s western Herat province, protesters hoisted an effigy of Macron on a crane and set it alight.
Macron’s tough stance on Islamic extremism has prompted denunciations from several Muslim countries.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office vowed to take “legal and diplomatic action” over the cartoon, while the country’s NTV broadcaster said Ankara had summoned a senior diplomat from the French embassy.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Macron’s defence of the publications a “stupid act” and an “insult” to those who voted for him.
Even in India, Muslim leaders called for a boycott of French goods. In Mumbai, some 100 posters showing Macron with a boot on his face and calling him a “demon” were pasted on pavements and roads. The posters were later removed by the police.
France raises security alert
France has raised its security alert to the highest level on Thursday after a knife-wielding man shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) beheaded an elderly woman in a church and killed two more people before being shot and taken away by police.
“We will not give any ground,” Macron said outside the church in the French Riviera city of Nice, promising to deploy thousands more soldiers to guard sites such as places of worship and schools.
France had been attacked “over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief”, he added.
French investigators said the man suspected of carrying out the Nice attack was a Tunisian born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on September 20 on Lampedusa, an Italian island off Tunisia that is a main landing point for migrants from Africa.
Australian, Indian leaders back France
Meanwhile, several leaders in Asia expressed support for France after the Church attack on Thursday, the birthday of the prophet.
“It is just the most callous and cowardly and vicious act of barbarism by terrorists and should be condemned in the strongest possible way,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison had expressed his support to Macron, he told media on Friday. “We share values. We stand for the same things.”
He also condemned as absurd comments by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Muslims had a right to be angry and kill “millions of French people for the massacres of the past”.
“Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not,” the US ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, said on Twitter in response to Mahathir’s comments.
Mahathir said his comments were taken out of context, while a senior Malaysian government figure, Abdul Hadi Awang, said Macron’s comments could not be justified.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also voiced support for Macron’s position and condemned the violence.
“I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France,” Modi tweeted on Thursday. “India stands with France in the fight against terrorism.”