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Jan 16, 2015 4:55 PM

Muslims protest weekly's prophet cartoon; 4 killed in Niger

The Associated Press

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) Muslim anger flared over a French satirical weekly's latest caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with four people reported killed and dozens injured at a protest Friday in the West African country of Niger, and violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Pakistan, Jordan and Algeria.

Supporters say the cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo is a defiant expression of free speech following a terrorist attack on the publication's Paris offices that killed 12 people on Jan. 7, but many Muslims viewed it as another attack on their religion.

The new issue has a drawing of Muhammad, with a tear rolling down his cheek and a placard that reads "Je Suis Charlie" a saying that has swept France and the world since the killings. The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam.

A French cultural center was set ablaze by protesters in the town of Zinder in southern Niger, and one security officer and three demonstrators were killed in the melee, said Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou. Another 20 security officers and 23 civilians were injured, he said.

The government of Niger, a former French colony, has banned the sale of Charlie Hebdo.

Many of the protests across the Muslim world began after midday prayers Friday, Islam's holy day.

Demonstrations were held in the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and the capital of Islamabad.

Clashes erupted in Karachi when protesters started heading toward the French consulate, throwing stones at police, who pushed them back with water cannons and tear gas.

Agence France-Presse photographer Asif Hassan was shot and wounded, said AFP news director Michele Leridon, although "his life does not seem in danger." AFP said it was trying to find out whether Hassan was targeted or shot accidentally.

Three other people, including two journalists and one police officer, were treated for minor injuries and released from Jinnah Hospital, said Dr. Seemi Jamali.

Police officer Naseer Tanoly said some of the protesters were armed and opened fire on the police, who shot into the air to disperse the crowd. The protesters were mostly students affiliated with the Jamaat-e-Islami political party.

Umair Saeed, an official with the party's student wing in Karachi, denied the students had weapons and said the police had opened fire.

About 1,000 people gathered in Islamabad to condemn the French publication. The demonstrators carried signs that read "Shame on Charlie Hebdo," and "If you are Charlie, then I am Kouachi" referring to the brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, who were killed after carrying out the attack on the newspaper office. They had claimed to be sent by al-Qaida in Yemen.

A second day of protests in Lahore drew about 800 people.

On Thursday, Pakistani lawmakers passed a resolution against cartoons of the prophet and marched outside parliament to protest Charlie Hebdo's latest cover.

The demonstrations overshadowed smaller rallies in Islamabad and elsewhere to commemorate the Peshawar school attack one month ago by Taliban gunmen that killed 150 people, many of them children. Those attending the rallies urged the government to do more to curb support for militancy and extremism, which many say have flourished at mosques and religious schools.

In Washington Friday night, dozens of Muslims primarily from Pakistan rallied to show solidarity with those demonstrating in Pakistan against terrorism and commemorating the Peshawar school attack one month ago.

In a rare protest in the Algerian capital of Algiers, thousands of young men marched to protest the French satirical newspaper. The demonstrators threw bottles and rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas.

Protesters carried banners saying, "I am not Charlie, I am Muhammad," and chanted slogans that date back to a banned Islamist party whose election victory in 1991 precipitated a civil war.

Some broke through police barriers and surged toward the parliament building, prompting volleys of tear gas by police and running street battles. The office of the state airline was torched.

Police eventually dispersed the demonstrators by using snow plows and tear gas, according to media reports. It was not clear how many were arrested or hurt in the unrest.

The demonstration, which had a degree of official backing when authorities called for imams to dedicate Friday prayers to the life of the prophet, was unusual for Algiers, where protests have been banned since 2001.

Clashes broke out in the Jordanian capital of Amman between security forces and about 2,000 protesters organized by the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group. Riot police used batons to disperse the people as they tried to march to the French Embassy.

The crowd chanted slogans against Charlie Hebdo and Jordanian officials for taking part in a unity march in Paris on Sunday. The Jordanian royal household denounced Charlie Hebdo's latest cover, saying publishing the cartoon was "irresponsible and far from the essence of freedom of expression." King Abdullah and Queen Rania, however, took part in the Paris march in solidarity with the victims of the terror attack.

Also Friday:

About 160 men in Istanbul said funeral prayers to honor the Kouachi brothers.

Several hundred worshippers marched briefly in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador.

Saudi Arabia's top council of senior clerics said Charlie Hebdo's latest depiction of the prophet served extremists looking to justify murder and terrorism.

Qatar urged Western media "to respect others and their beliefs."


Santana reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, Karim Kebir in Algiers, Algeria, and Brett Zongker in Washington D.C. contributed to this report.


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