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September 19, 2012

French cartoons inflame prophet film tensions

PARIS (AP) — A French magazine published vulgar caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday, inflaming global tensions over a movie insulting to Islam and prompting France to step up security at embassies.

The move by provocative weekly Charlie Hebdo followed days of violent protests from Asia to Africa against the U.S.-produced film "Innocence of Muslims," and turned France into a potential target, too. Up to now, American government sites have drawn the most ire.

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

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

The French government ordered embassies and schools abroad to close on Friday, the Muslim holy day, as a precautionary measure. It ordered the immediate closure of the French Embassy and the French school in Tunisia, which saw deadly film-related protests at the U.S. Embassy on Friday.

The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning Wednesday 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.

At the same time, the country — which has western Europe's largest Muslim population — plunged into new debate over the limits to free speech in a modern democracy.

France's prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed, but cautioned that it "should be exercised with responsibility and respect."

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