French President attempts to diffuse cartoon fiasco

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron said Saturday he understood and respected the feelings aroused by caricatures of Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) in a bid to calm tensions with Muslims in France and around the world but vowed never to accept violence.

The French president spoke to an Arab TV channel when he issued these comments, hinting that he sought to calm flaring tensions with Muslims around the world. However, he lashed out at “lies” that the French state was behind the caricatures.

France is on edge after the republication in early September of cartoons of Holy Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) by the Charlie Hebdo weekly, which was followed by an attack outside its former offices, the beheading of a teacher, and an attack on a church in Nice Thursday that left three people dead.

Read more: France knife attack leaves at least three dead, say police

The country was further shaken by a new incident on Saturday, when an attacker armed with a shotgun shot an Orthodox priest as he closed his church in the French city of Lyon before fleeing, a police source said.

The 52-year-old priest, who has Greek nationality, was shot in the liver at point-blank range and taken to hospital in a serious condition, the sources added.

A suspect was arrested later Saturday, Lyon’s public prosecutor said, with the motive of the attack remaining unclear.

Protests in Islamic world

The Islamic world had erupted in large protests in various countries — fuelled by Muslim leaders — after Macron said France would never renounce its laws for freedom of speech and that permitted blasphemous caricatures.

The French president’s remarks had come after the gruesome killing earlier this month of Samuel Paty, a teacher who had shown his class the controversial cartoons and was subsequently beheaded by an 18-year-old Muslim of Chechen descent, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov.

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In his recent interview to Qatar-based TV channel Al-Jazeera, Macron struck a softer tone and described in length his vision. “I can understand that people could be shocked by the caricatures but I will never accept that violence can be justified,” he said.

Protesters burn effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron during an anti-French protest in Karachi, Pakistan, October 31, 2020. AFP/Rizwan Tabassum

“I understand the feelings that this arouses, I respect them. But I want you to understand the role that I have. My role is to calm things down, as I am doing here, but at the same time it is to protect these rights,” Macron said.

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