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EUROPE > New cartoon puts France on high alert

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A French magazine prints cartoons of Islam’s Prophet, inflaming protests against a anti-Islam film. The ban on protests against the film also raises debates on free speech

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Indonesian protesters shout slogans at a protest against the anti-Islam film. EPA photo

Indonesian protesters shout slogans at a protest against the anti-Islam film. EPA photo

Fresh protests erupted in the Muslim world yesterday over an anti-Islam film, while France stepped up its security after a satirical Parisian weekly published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, plunging the country into a fierce debate about free speech.

Riot police took up positions outside the offices of magazine “Charlie Hebdo,” which published cartoons mocking the offending film and also caricaturing the Prophet Muhammad.

The French government ordered embassies in around 20 countries and schools abroad to close on Sept. 21, as a precautionary measure. It also ordered the immediate closure of the French Embassy and the French school in Tunisia until Sept. 24. The cartoons have poured fuel on the fire, after the film provoked violence in Muslim countries resulting in the deaths of at least 30 people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

Free to go to court

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he would block a demonstration planned for Sept. 22 by people angry over the U.S.-produced film which portrays the prophet as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. “We are in a country where freedom of expression is guaranteed, including the freedom to caricature,” Ayrault said. “If people really feel offended in their beliefs [...] they can go to court.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said freedom of expression can be limited by court decisions, “If there is a case of overstepping, it’s up to individuals or groups to bring it to the courts, which will say whether the law ... was respected.”

Leaders of the large Muslim community in France said an appeal for calm would be read out in mosques across the country on Sept. 21. One of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, who goes by the name of Tignous, said: “It’s just a drawing.” “It’s not a provocation.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently said he would soon bring the issue of having Islamophobia included among recognized hate crimes to the United Nations General Assembly meetings in this month. “The limits of freedom of expression and conscience end where others’ rights begin. You can say anything about religion, ideas and faith, but you have to stop when you cross the other’s [limit],” Erdoğan said.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said German law guaranteed freedom of expression, but not beyond the point where people feel insulted. In Pakistan, up to 500 lawyers burned a U.S. flag.

Friday was to be declared a national holiday in Pakistan, as a “day of expression of love for the Prophet.”

In Afghanistan, 1,000 protesters also took to the streets, blocking a key road to Kabul.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.

September/20/2012

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