French President Francois Hollande says people protesting the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo do not understand the French attachment to freedom of speech.
His statement comes amid protests over the publication’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad on its latest cover that went to press just days after 10 of its journalists were gunned down in Paris by Muslim extremists. Those protests have turned violent in Algeria, Pakistan and Niger, where at least two Christian churches were set fire.
“We’ve supported these countries in the fight against terrorism,” Hollande said during a visit to the southern city of Tulle, according to Reuters.
“France has principles and values, in particular freedom of expression,” Hollande said.
Charlie Hebdo’s distributors said several million copies of the latest issue — featuring a cartoon image of Muhammad on the cover saying “I am Charlie” in solidarity with the slain journalists — had been printed. The magazine’s usual run is about 60,000.
Meanwhile, in Niger, at least four people were killed in the southern city of Zinder as protesters set fire to a French cultural center and “several churches,” Voice of America reports.
Al-Jazeera says stone-throwing demonstrators also burned at least two police cars after authorities banned a march organized by local Muslims.
“They offended our Prophet Muhammad. That’s what we didn’t like,” protester Amadou Abdoul Ouahab was quoted by Reuters as saying. “This is the reason why we have asked Muslims to come, so that we can explain this to them, but the state refused. That’s why we’re angry today.”
VOA reports that three civilians died, including two who were shot by police during an attack on their station, according to Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou, who was speaking on state television. A police officer was run over and killed, while 45 other people were injured, he said.
“Zinder experienced a quasi-insurrectional situation,” Massaoudou said. “I would like to reassure Christians that the state is here to defend those living in Niger at all costs.”
Al-Jazeera says peaceful protests took place after Friday prayers in Mali, Senegal and Mauritania.
Euronews says that in Pakistan, a local photographer, Assif Hassan, was seriously wounded by gunfire and others were injured in protests outside the French consulate in Karachi.