Riot police guard newspaper office

Fears of Muslim protests after Charlie Hebdo prints new cartoons of Mohammad

18 September 2012

RIOT police are today guarding the offices of satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo fearing Muslim protests after its latest issue hits the streets with cartoons of Mohammad.

The magazine, whose Paris offices were firebombed last November after a mocking cartoon of the prophet, has nude caricatures of him today which come in the wake of a wave of attacks by irate Muslims upset over a controversial anti-Islam film.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said he "disapproved of all excess" and called on "everyone to behave responsibly". But he added that "freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles of our republic" if people disagreed with the paper they could take legal action.

The government has ordered increased security at its embassies, fearing the widespread protests that led, in Libya, to the death of the US ambassador.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who is on an official visit to Egypt, said he "condemned" the publication of the cartoons.

However, he added that planned Muslim protests in Paris and Toulouse over the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims would be banned.

Last weekend 152 people were arrested as 250 people demonstrated outside the US embassy in Paris in protest at the film and there have been renewed calls on social networks for a new protest this weekend.

Today Charlie Hebdo director, Charb, said: "If we start by asking if we have the right to draw Mohammad and if it's dangerous or not to do it then the next question is going to be 'Can we draw Muslims?' then it's 'Can we draw human beings?'"

The paper's front page today is a take-off of the hit film Intouchables with an Orthodox Jew pushing an Imam in a wheelchair. Its website was not accessible this morning.

Editor, Stephane Charbonnier, told i>TELE news programme that if it stopped printing satire because of fear then it would produce 16 blank pages each week.

In a statement, the French Muslim Council said the paper was stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment at a difficult time and while "deeply attached to freedom of speech" feels "nothing can justify insult and inciting hatred".

The Jewish organisation Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (Crif) called the paper "irresponsible".

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