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French magazine publishes naked Mohammad cartoons
French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday, a move criticized by the French authorities which sent riot police to protect the magazine's offices.
France will also close its embassies and schools in around 20 countries Friday because of fears of a hostile reaction to the magazine's actions, the foreign ministry said Wednesday.
Issues of the magazine hit newsstands with a front cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair with several caricatures of the Prophet on its inside pages, including some of him naked.
The front page cartoon had the wheelchair-bound figure saying "You mustn't mock" under the headline "Untouchable 2", a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralyzed rich white man and his black assistant.
The publication came amid widespread outrage over a short film, made with private funds in the United States, that mocks the Prophet and has ignited days of sometimes deadly protests in the Arab world, Africa, Asia and some Western countries.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticized the move as a provocation and said he had ordered security beefed up at French diplomatic offices in the Muslim world.
Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were fire bombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Mohammad. In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people.
Many Muslims consider any representation of God or the Prophet Mohammad offensive.
"Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no," Fabius told France Info radio. "I'm very worried... and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem."
Charlie Hebdo, renowned for its irreverent treatment of the political establishment and public figures, defended its move to publish the cartoons.
"We do caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, and when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation," the paper's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, told the news channel i>TELE.
He said that if Charlie Hebdo stopped printing satirical work because of pressure or fear of offence, it would be reduced to selling 16 blank pages every week.
The government has called for restraint over the cartoons, restating the principles of free speech in France and urging those shocked by the images to take action through the courts.
The main body representing Muslims in France, the French Muslim Council (CFCM), accused Charlie Hebdo of firing up anti-Muslim sentiment at a sensitive time.
"The CFCM is deeply attached to freedom of speech but considers that nothing can justify insult and inciting hatred," it said in a statement.
"The CFCM calls on the Muslims of France not to give in to such provocation and urges them to express their indignation calmly and in lawful manner."
As outrage over the anti-Muslim film continues to fuel violence and protests across the Islamic world, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the authorities had rejected a request to hold a march against the film in Paris.
"There is no reason for us to allow conflicts that do not concern France to enter our country," Ayrault told RTL radio.
Social media had circulated calls for a protest on Saturday against the film, after police arrested about 150 people who tried to take part in an unauthorized protest near the US Embassy in Paris last week.
Protest groups have criticized France's decision to ban rallies against the film as a suppression of civil liberties.
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