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Homeland Security

Charlie Hebdo Protests Hit Mideast, Asia, Africa

by VOA News January 17, 2015

French President Francois Hollande on Saturday defended free speech, saying that anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters in other countries do not understand France's attachment to freedom of speech.

His remarks come a day after throngs of Muslims around the world held protests against the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad by the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo, with some of the demonstrations turning violent.

In Niger, at least four people were killed in the southern town of Zinder, where protesters set fire to a French cultural center and several churches and attacked Christian shops with clubs and Molotov cocktails, while police responded with tear gas.

Three civilians died, including two who were shot by police during an attack on their station, Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou said on state television. A police officer was run over and killed, while 45 other people were injured.

'Zinder experienced a quasi-insurrectional situation,'' said Massaoudou. 'I would like to reassure Christians that the state is here to defend those living in Niger at all costs.''

Witnesses said the crowd of mostly youths also ransacked the the homes of police officers and the local headquarters of President Mahamadou Issoufou's party.

'The protesters are crying out in local Hausa language: 'Charlie is Satan — let hell engulf those supporting Charlie,' '' said Aboubacar Mamane, a shopkeeper.

The streets were calmer by nightfall, residents said, but France's embassy in Niamey advised its citizens against going out and urged caution because of the ongoing unrest.

Periodical banned

The violence in Niger erupted despite a government decision to ban the distribution of Charlie Hebdo in the Muslim dominated West African country.

Sani Iro, communications director for PNDS-Tarayya, the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, says the government acted in good faith to maintain the country's peace by banning the Charlie Hebdo publication.

Iro said the government has deployed security officers to Zinder following the burning of some churches and Christian related structures.

Critics say the banning of the distribution of the newspaper infringes on the freedom of speech which is guaranteed by the constitution.

Protests in Asia, Mideast

Violent demonstrations also occurred in Karachi, Pakistan, where several hundred protesters clashed with police. A photographer with the French news agency AFP was reported to be among three people wounded.

Protests also took place in other major Pakistani cities, including Islamabad and Lahore.

​​​​​​In Yemen, protesters gathered Saturday in front of the French Embassy in Sanaa, chanting slogans against caricatures published in French satirical weekly.

In Algiers, Algeria, police clashed with demonstrators who threw rocks and bottles around the waterfront area of the capital. Hundreds of people had earlier marched peacefully through the capital, waving placards saying 'I am Muhammad.'

Largely peaceful marches took place in the capitals of West African countries Mali, Senegal and Mauritania.

​​In Amman, Jordanians gathered to protest against satirical French cartoons, after Friday prayers.

In Sudan, protesters took to the streets of Khartoum to protest against France and Charlie Hebdo. Some carried large banners bearing such slogans as 'Death for French' and 'Charlie Hebdo offends the Prophet.'

Elsewhere, protesters marched in Amman, Jordan, and Istanbul, Turkey.

The latest issue of Charlie Hebdo shows a weeping depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover, holding a sign reading 'Je Suis Charlie' ['I Am Charlie'] under the headline 'All is Forgiven.' It was the first edition since gunmen attacked the magazine's offices in Paris last week, killing 12 people.

Many Muslims view the magazine's caricatures of Muhammad as insults to Islam.

In Islam, visual representations of all the prophets and messengers of God are prohibited in order to prevent idolatry, and the worshipping of the images themselves rather than God.

Ayaz Gul contributed to this report from Islamabad, and some information came from Reuters. Peter Clottey contributed reporting.

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