DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Thousands of Muslims in Pakistan poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president’s vow to protect the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad continues to roil the Muslim world.
An estimated 2,000 worshippers celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, took to the streets in the eastern city of Lahore. Crowds led by Islamic parties chanted anti-France slogans, raised banners and clogged major roads en route to a Sufi shrine. Dozens of people furiously stomped on French flags and cried for the boycott of French products. In Multan, a city in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, thousands burned an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron and demanded that Pakistan sever ties with France.
More gatherings were planned for later Friday in Pakistan, including the capital, Islamabad, where police were out in force to prevent possible demonstrations outside the French Embassy. The atmosphere was tense as police positioned shipping containers to block the roads.
Other protests, largely organized by Islamists, are expected across the region, including in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.
In Afghanistan, members of the Islamist party Hezb-i-Islami set the French flag ablaze. Its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, warned Macron that if he doesn’t “control the situation, we are going to a third world war and Europe will be responsible.”
The protests come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in class.
Those images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the ire of Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous.
A series of attacks that French authorities have attributed to Muslim extremism ensued. On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man carrying a copy of the Quran killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. That same day, a Saudi man stabbed and lightly wounded a security guard at the French consulate in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, prompting France to urge its citizens there to be on “high alert.”
Over the past week, protests and calls to boycott French products have spread rapidly from Bangladesh to Pakistan to Kuwait. Social media has been pulsing with anti-France hashtags. Muslim leaders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular, have loudly criticized France for what they see as the government’s provocative and anti-Muslim stance.
Associated Press writers Asim Tanveer in Multan, Pakistan and Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan contributed to this report.