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France's Muslim leaders on Friday urged militants not to defy a ban on protests over cartoons mocking Mohammed as a security alert closed the country's embassies across the Islamic world.
French schools, consulates and cultural centres in 20 Muslim countries were closed along with the embassies for fear of retaliatory attacks over a Paris weekly's publication of the controversial cartoons, which have fuelled protests over the US-made film “Innocence of Muslims.”
Protests over the film have left more than 30 people dead in little over a week.
Mohamed Moussaoui, the President of the French Muslim Council (CFCM), said there was widespread anger among France's four million Muslims over Charlie Hebdo's cartoons, but said there was nothing to gain from taking to the streets.
“Any demonstration in the current context is likely to be hijacked and end up being counter-productive,” he said. “French Muslims have to respect the decisions taken about authorising demonstrations.”
Interior Minister Manuel Valls has made it clear he will not sanction any demonstrations this weekend on the grounds they will inevitably represent a threat to public order.
A rowdy protest close to the US embassy last weekend led to 150 arrests and there have been calls on social networks for another illegal demonstration in central Paris on Saturday.
Messages calling for calm were read out at mosques across France on Friday but Moussaoui said he understood why many Muslims felt the need to protest over cartoons depicting their Prophet naked.
“The outrage of French Muslims is legitimate,” he said. “This is about an aggressive and gratuitous assault on the fundamental tenets of their faith. It is a provocation and they have the right to express their indignation.”
The Muslim Council is examining the possibility of legal action over the cartoons but that is seen as having little chance of success in light of strong constitutional provisions defending the freedom of expression and the absence of any law restricting attacks on religion.
The ban on demonstrations over the cartoons has exposed the government to accusations of double standards on freedom of expression.
Authorisation for protests in Paris is normally routine with 3 650 applications having been approved in 2011 and only three turned down, according to Le Monde. - Sapa-AFP