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France to Shut Missions in 20 Nations on Cartoon-Backlash Worry

Charlie Hebdo's Publisher
French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo's publisher, known only as Charb, speaks to journalists, on September 19, 2012 in Paris. France will close diplomatic sites in 20 Muslim countries on concern that the publication mocking the Prophet Muhammad may provoke a violent backlash. Photographer: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

France will close diplomatic sites in 20 Muslim countries on Sept. 21 on concern that a French satirical magazine’s publication of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad may provoke a violent backlash.

France will close embassies, consulates, cultural centers and French schools on Friday, the day of prayer for Muslims, the foreign ministry said in an e-mailed statement.

“We have given instructions in all countries where it could pose a problem to take particular security measures,” Stephanie Desbois, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said in the statement.

The publication of the caricatures in the weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo comes just days after a film seen to be denigrating the prophet provoked demonstrations against U.S. missions overseas. The protests resulted in the death of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other diplomats.

In France, the government said it won’t allow street protests against the cartoons, rejecting a call made by some Islamic groups.

“We live in a land where freedom of expression is guaranteed, including that of satire,” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in an interview on RTL radio today. “We also live in a land of rights, and if people feel they have been offended they can take it to the courts.”

Last weekend, the French police broke up a gathering of about 200 people near the U.S. embassy protesting the anti-Islam film.

While saying that he understands that some Muslims might be offended, Ayrault said “there is no reason to allow in these issues that don’t involve France.”

Ayrault praised French Muslim leaders for having issued calls for restraint.

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