Thousands of Bangladeshi Muslims rally against France

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — About 10,000 Bangladeshis from an Islamist group marched through the nation's capital on Tuesday to denounce the display of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad in France, while the group's leader urged Muslims around the world to boycott French products.

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The protesters from Islami Andolon Bangladesh, a group that advocates for the introduction of Islamic law in the Muslim-majority country, carried banners and placards reading “All Muslims of the world, unite” and “Boycott France."

They also carried a large cut-out of a photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and hung shoes around its neck.

Muslim-majority countries have been outraged by Macron’s remarks last week in which he refused to condemn the publication or showing of caricatures of Muhammad. An 18-year-old of Chechen origin is accused of the Oct. 16 beheading near Paris of a French teacher who had shown caricatures of Muhammad.

France considers religious satire to be among the kinds of speech that fall under the freedom of expression, while many Muslims consider any perceived attack on their prophet as a grave offense.

The protesters gathered in the morning in front of Bangladesh's main Baitul Mokarram Mosque in Dhaka, the capital, and later started marching toward the French Embassy, which is located a few kilometers away from the mosque. But police intercepted the procession on its way and it ended peacefully.

Rezaul Karim, the head of Islami Andolon Bangladesh, urged France to refrain from displaying any caricatures of Muhammad.

“We, the Muslims, never did caricatures of other religious leaders. That's the history. Because the person who taught us is Prophet Muhammad," Karim said. “Allah sent Prophet Muhammad as an ambassador of peace. ... Macron and his associates did not learn anything from history. You should be ashamed.”

“I call upon all the Muslims of the world to boycott all products of France. We have to give them a good lesson,” he told his supporters.

Karim said Macron should be treated for what he said was his “mental illness,” and called on the United Nations to punish France.

He also criticized Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for not saying anything against France or Macron. “You are a Muslim, to get votes you use them, but now why are you so silent?” he said.

While leaders of many countries, including Pakistan and Turkey, have openly criticized French policy, Hasina has yet to officially comment.

Bangladesh is a Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people and is governed by a secular constitution. But dozens of groups, including Islami Andolon Bangladesh, have long been demanding the introduction of Sharia law in the country.