AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Thursday 20 September 2012
Last Update 20 September 2012 3:40 am
PARIS: Fresh protests erupted in the Muslim world yesterday over an anti-Islam film as a French magazine poured fuel on the fire with the publication of blasphemous cartoons against the Prophet.
France braced for a backlash from the cartoons, stepping up security at its embassies and banning demonstrations on its own soil as senior officials appealed for calm.
More than 30 people have been killed in attacks or violent protests linked to the controversial US-made film "Innocence of Muslims", including 12 people who died in an attack by a female suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Tuesday.
In Pakistan, up to 500 lawyers managed to break through a gate to Islamabad's heavily-guarded diplomatic enclave.
Wearing headbands inscribed with "Lovers of Prophet, Death to the blasphemer", the protesters laid a US flag on the ground and walked over it one by one. Later they burned the flag before the rally ended peacefully.
A senior government official in Pakistan told AFP that in response to the film Friday is to be declared a national holiday, as a "day of expression of love for the Prophet". The move came after religious parties called for a day of protest on Friday to denounce the film.
About 1,000 protesters took to the streets in eastern Afghanistan, blocking a key road to Kabul and chanting "Death to the enemies of Islam." In reaction to the uproar, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons mocking the film and caricaturing the Prophet.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius admitted he feared a backlash over the cartoons and said embassies and other French institutions in around 20 countries will be closed Friday for fear of being targeted in protests after weekly prayers.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said anyone offended by cartoons could take the matter to the courts but made it clear there would be no action against the weekly.
Leaders of the large Muslim community in France said an appeal for calm would be read out in mosques across the country on Friday but also condemned the magazine for publishing "insulting" images.
Washington has also moved to boost security in the wake of the protests, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying the US was taking "aggressive steps" to protect diplomatic missions worldwide.
Among those killed in the protests so far have been four US diplomatic staff in Libya, including ambassador Chris Stevens.
US President Barack Obama said Tuesday he expected governments in the Muslim world to protect American diplomats, despite their revulsion at the film.
"The message we have to send to the Muslim world is that we expect you to work with us, to keep our people safe," Obama said.
On a visit to Lithuania on Wednesday, Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul condemned the film and the French cartoons as provocations.
"We are living in a world where everybody should respect the belief of others," he said.
"We need to make sure that a minority of people cannot disturb the peaceful cooperation that we are building with the world as a whole."
Muslim men and women in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka also staged their first demonstration yesterday, with several hundred gathering in the capital Colombo near the US embassy to denounce the film.
Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan blocked access to YouTube following the site's release of the clip of the film.
The California-based maker of the film, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a 55-year-old Egyptian Copt and fraudster who was sentenced to 21 months in prison in the United States in June 2010, has not been seen since Saturday when he was questioned.
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