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Africa

Charlie Hebdo editor defends Mohammed cartoons as France prepares for protests

media Police posted ourtside Charlie Hebdo's offices on Wednesday Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

The editor of satirical French paper Charlie Hebdo claims the weekly was only doing its job in publishing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed for the second time in two years. France is to close embassies and French schools in 20 countries on Friday for fear of protests over the cartoons’ publication.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has ordered special security measures "in all the countries where this could pose a problem" and security has been reinforced as from Wednesday.

French schools in Tunisia closed on Wednesday afternoon and would stay closed until Monday, France’s embassy in Tunis announced after the cartoons were published.

Four people were killed and many wounded when Islamists stormed the US embassy in Tunis on Friday in protests at the film Innocence of Muslims.

Police were deployed outside Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris on Wednesday for fear of attacks such as last year's firebombing after it produced an edition it said was “guest-edited” by Mohammed that featured a front-page caricaturing the prophet.

The paper’s editor-in-chief Gérard Biard says that the cartoons are a legitimate response to the violent worldwide protests over Innocence of Muslims, which “we all agree … was a stupid movie”.

After seeing reports about attacks on embassies and the deaths of about 30 people, “we just said, okay, let's do our work,” he told RFI. “Our job is to write about the news all over the world."

"It's always the same thing,” Biard said on Wednesday morning. “Every time we make a cartoon about religions, we are called provocateurs. It's not provocation. We are a political and satirical newspaper, and every week we make a comment on the news, so we just did our job, we didn't make any provocation. I don't think extreme Muslims, or extremists in Muslim countries, need any provocation to kill people."

In 2006 Charlie Hebdo published the controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed, leading to an unsuccessful prosecution for "racist insult" against its the boss, Philippe Val.

The latest batch of four cartoons include two in which he is portrayed naked and facetious references to well-known films.

The paper’s website crashed on Wednesday after it was bombarded by messages that ranged from hate-mail to support. Its director, Stephane Charbonnier known as Charb, claimed that it had been hacked.

Reactions to Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons were varied:

  • The president of French Jewish group, Crif, Richard Prasquier, called their publication “irresponsible” in the current climate;
  • Foreign Minister Fabius said that it is neither “appropriate and intelligent” to “pour oil on the fire”;
  • Interior Minister Manuel Valls said that all demonstrations that threaten public order will be banned, declaring freedom of expression, including caricature, a “fundamental right”;
  • Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault declared that freedom of expression is “guaranteed” in France but said that “people really offended in their beliefs” could take legal action if they feel the law has been broken;
  • Far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pendeclared that freedom of expression is “non-negociable” and accused mainstream politicians of failing to react when Catholics’ feelings were hurt.
     

 

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