DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Tens of thousands of Muslims marched in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to protest the French president's support of secular laws allowing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, burning effigies of him and calling for a boycott of French products.
Protests were also reported across the country after Friday's weekly Muslim prayers.
In Dhaka, tens of thousands of people from more than a dozen Islamist parties and groups poured into the streets near the Baitul Mokarram national mosque demanding that Bangladesh sever relations with France. Some carried banners reading “Say no to Islamphobia” and “Boycott French products.”
Barbed-wire fences were installed near the mosque as hundreds of police in riot gear cordoned off the processions.
The protesters carried effigies of President Emmanuel Macron and then burned them.
“I ask the government to remove the French Embassy from this country immediately. Otherwise, in the face of the movement, no one favoring France will be able to stay in power,” Abu Taher Jihadi al Kashemi, a leader of the marches, told the protesters.
France is an important aid provider and trading partner for Bangladesh.
Protests began in the Muslim-majority country earlier this week, with pressure growing on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to officially denounce France. Hasina, who has yet to officially comment, follows a policy of balanced diplomatic ties with Muslim and Western nations.
The Islamist parties support the introduction of Islamic Shariah law in Bangladesh, which is governed by a legal system largely based on British common law.
Muslim-majority countries across the world have been outraged by Macron’s refusal to condemn the publication or display of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. In Islam, any depiction of the prophet is prohibited. The issue has come to light again in recent days following the gruesome beheading near Paris of a French teacher who showed caricatures of the prophet in class. An 18-year-old Chechen refugee who carried out the attack was later shot dead by police.
The teacher, Samuel Paty, has been heralded as a symbol of France’s staunch secular ideals and its rejection of religious intrusion in public spheres. Macron and members of his government have vowed to continue supporting such caricatures as protected under freedom of expression.
A series of attacks that French authorities have attributed to Muslim extremism has followed. 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.
Muslim politicians and religious scholars have condemned such caricatures as a form of hate speech and view them as sacrilegious and insulting to Islam.