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France to close embassies over Prophet Muhammad cartoons

France has increased security around its embassies after the publication of fresh cartoons featuring the prophet, announcing some will be closed. In Germany politicians are suggesting a blasphemy law be introduced.

France's foreign ministry has announced that it would shut down embassies in twenty countries on Friday out of fear of violent protests triggered by Wednesday's publication of controversial cartoons featuring the Prophet Muhammad in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier announced that he had ordered special security measures "in all the countries where this could pose a problem."

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French magazine cites freedom of expression

The cartoons in the paper are spread over two inside pages and the back page. Two depict Islam's prophet in compromising positions.

When quizzed on what the repercussions of the cartoons could be, the paper's director told i-Tele channel that it would "shock those who want to be shocked in reading a paper they never read."

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault announced on Wednesday that a planned weekend demonstration against an anti-Islam film produced in the United States would not be allowed to take place.

Ayrault said on French radio RTL that "there's no reason for us to let a conflict that doesn't concern France come into our country. We are a republic that has no intention of being intimidated by anyone."

The organizers of the French protest had intended to demonstrate on Saturday in opposition to the film “Innocence of Muslims”, but will now be unable to gain the necessary police authorization. So far, the amateur film has sparked demonstrations in around 20 countries and caused at least 28 deaths, including that of the US ambassador to Libya.

Tensions in Germany

In Germany, tension over the film has revived debate about whether the protection of religious beliefs from blasphemy should be enshrined in law. The deputy chairman of the Union Parliamentary Group John Singhammer (CSU) has spearheaded calls for such a change.

Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich also called for better protection of religious beliefs."I demand more respect for people's religious sentiments, " he said on Wednesday.

Johannes Singhammer

Johannes Singhammer wants anti-blasphemy laws in Germany

"We as Christians have had to put up with a lot in recent years, protected under the label expression, press and artistic freedom," added Friedrich.

The CSU has long supported such a move. The party introduced a draft legal reform to make public insult of religious beliefs a criminal offense in 2000.

In Berlin, German politicians also expressed their support for preventing a far-right group from showing "Innocence of Muslims" in Berlin, home to a sizeable Islamic community. Organizers of the showing, which said it wanted to open a debate on free speech, later cancelled the event.

German authorities had said they would make moves to stop the film from being shown. Interior Minister Friedrich said the screening would have been a "political action" that would have poured "oil on the fire." He insisted a ban would not breech freedom of expression.

sej/rg (dpa, AP, AFP)

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