French cartoons inflame prophet film tensions

JAKARTA, Indonesia

The weekly publication Charlie Hebdo published the caricatures following days of violent protests from Asia to Africa against the film, "Innocence of Muslims," which was produced in the U.S. This could turn France into a potential target of Muslim rage - up to now, American government sites have drawn the most ire.

The amateurish movie portrays the prophet as a fraud, a womanizer and a child molester. Violence linked to the film has killed at least 30 people in seven countries, including the American ambassador to Libya.

In Pakistan on Wednesday, several hundred lawyers protesting the film forced their way into an area in the capital that houses the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions. Also, the U.S. temporarily closed its consulate in an Indonesian city because of similar demonstrations, and hundreds protested the film in Sri Lanka's capital, burning effigies of President Barack Obama.

In France, the government ordered embassies and schools abroad to close Friday in about 20 countries as a precautionary measure, according to the foreign affairs ministry. Friday is the Muslim holy day. The government ordered the closure of the French Embassy and the French school in Tunisia, which saw deadly film-related protests at the U.S. Embassy last Friday.

Also Wednesday, the French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning urging French citizens in the Muslim world to exercise "the greatest vigilance," avoiding public gatherings and "sensitive buildings" such as those representing the West or religious sites.

Regarding the cartoon, France's prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed, but cautioned that it "should be exercised with responsibility and respect." Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that Charlie Hebdo could be throwing "oil on the fire," but said it's up to the courts to decide whether the magazine went too far.

Charlie Hebdo's chief editor is defending the cartoons, which play off the "Innocence of Muslims" film and ridicules the violent reaction to it. The small-circulation publication often draws attention for ridiculing sensitivity around the Prophet Muhammad, and an investigation into the firebombing of its offices last year is still open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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