KARACHI – Muslim anger has flared over a French satirical weekly’s latest caricature of the Prophet Muhammad, with four people reported killed and dozens injured at a protest Friday in the West African country of Niger, and violent clashes between demonstrators and police in Pakistan, Jordan and Algeria.
Supporters say the cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo is a defiant expression of free speech following a terrorist attack on the publication’s Paris offices that killed 12 people on Jan. 7, but many Muslims viewed it as another attack on their religion.
The new issue has a drawing of Muhammad, with a tear rolling down his cheek and a placard that reads “Je suis Charlie” — a saying that has swept France and the world since the killings. The depiction of the prophet is deemed insulting to many followers of Islam.
A French cultural center was set ablaze by protesters in the town of Zinder in southern Niger, and one security officer and three demonstrators were killed in the melee, said Interior Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou. Another 20 security officers and 23 civilians were injured, he said.
The government of Niger, a former French colony, has banned the sale of Charlie Hebdo.
Many of the protests across the Muslim world began after midday prayers Friday, Islam’s holy day.
Demonstrations were held in the Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and in the capital, Islamabad.
Clashes erupted in Karachi when protesters started heading toward the French Consulate, throwing stones at police, who pushed them back with water cannons and tear gas.
Agence France-Presse photographer Asif Hassan was shot and wounded, said AFP news director Michele Leridon, although “his life does not seem in danger.” AFP said it is trying to find out whether Hassan was targeted or shot accidentally.
Three other people, including two journalists and one police officer, were treated for minor injuries and released from Jinnah Hospital, said Dr. Seemi Jamali.
Police officer Naseer Tanoly said some of the protesters were armed and opened fire on the police, who shot into the air to disperse the crowd. The protesters were mostly students affiliated with the party Jamaat-e-Islami.
Umair Saeed, an official with the party’s student wing in Karachi, denied the students had weapons and said the police had opened fire.