DHAKA: Tens of thousands of Bangladeshis took to the streets of the capital on Monday to call for action against France, the latest protest by Muslims opposed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of the right to publish cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him).
France has been on edge since September when Charlie Hebdo weekly republished cartoons of the Prophet (PBUH), which was followed by an attack outside its former offices, the beheading of a teacher and an attack on a church in Nice.
President Emmanuel Macron sought to calm flaring tensions with Muslims around the world on Saturday, telling an Arab TV channel he understood the cartoons could be shocking — while lashing out at “lies” that the French state was behind them. But protesters in Bangladesh have linked the republication to Macron and the state and have turned out in huge numbers to protest.
Police said more than 50,000 people marched on Monday — ignoring coronavirus social distancing rules — while carrying effigies of the French president and a coffin.
Organisers said more than 100,000 people took part.
“We are all soldiers of the Prophet (PBUH),” protesters chanted. “We are not afraid of bullets or bombs.”
Police erected a barbed-wire barricade across a major road to stop protesters getting close to Dhaka’s embassy district and the event broke up without trouble.
Demonstrations have been held in many Muslim majority countries since Macron defended France’s freedom of speech laws.
Around 3,000 people demonstrated outside the French embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Monday.
Protesters burned pictures of Macron and waved placards emblazoned with a shoeprint on his face and others depicting the French leader with devil horns.
Monday’s rally in Bangladesh was called by Hefazat-i-Islam, one of the biggest radical Muslim political groups in the country of 168 million people.
Junaid Babunagari, the firebrand deputy chief of Hefazat, demanded that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina make the Bangladesh parliament condemn Macron.
“I call on traders to throw away French products. I ask the UN to take action against France,” he told the rally.