French embassies, schools closed in 20 countries…
French embassies, consulates, cultural centres and schools in around 20 Muslim countries shut up shop on Friday – the Muslim holy day – for fear of retaliatory violence following weekly prayers. The order came from the foreign ministry, which anticipates violent demonstrations over the publishing Wednesday of Prophet Mohammed cartoons by satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo. The obscene cartoons exacerbated anger among Muslim communities after more than a week of deadly protests sparked by the US-made amateurish video “Innocence of Muslims”.
Security had been beefed up on security arrangements at institutions abroad and in France, with reinforcements and armed guards on standby. The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning urging French citizens in the Muslim world to exercise “the greatest vigilance”, avoiding public gatherings and “sensitive buildings”. Tens of thousands of French expatriates live in Muslim countries.
Protests over the cartoons – which showed the Prophet Mohammed naked – had already begun Thursday in Tehran and Kabul. Demonstrators chanted “death to France” outside the French embassies in the two capitals. One student told TV reporters that the “doomed, nasty French” had committed an offence that the activists were willing to “sacrifice” themselves for. “What were they thinking?” he asked.
In Tunisia, French schools were shut down from Wednesday until next Monday after the ruling Islamists branded the cartoons a “new attack” on their religion. One parent outside a school in Tunis told FRANCE 24 that she was reassured by the decision. “It’s better not to take any chances, given that we don’t really have faith in the security system,” she said. But another thought officials were overreacting. “I don’t understand the need to close for several days,” he said, adding that one or two key days would be enough.