DUBAI – Tens of thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president's vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Muslim world.
Hardline Islamic groups across the region have seized on the the French government’s staunch secularist stance as an affront to Islam, rallying their supporters and stirring up rage.
Demonstrations in Pakistan's capital Islamabad turned violent as some 2,000 people who tried to march toward the French Embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons. Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes. Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police as authorities pushed to evict activists from the area surrounding the embassy.
In Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, an estimated 10,000 followers of the radical Islamic Tehreek-e-Labbaik party celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets. They chanted anti-France slogans, raised banners and clogged major roads en route to a Sufi shrine.
“There’s only one punishment for blasphemy,” bellowed Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a fiery cleric leading the march.
“Beheading! Beheading!” the protesters yelled back.
The demonstrations, largely led by Islamist parties across the region, come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
The images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the ire of Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous. On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man carrying a copy of the Quran killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.