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January 20, 2015

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Thousands protest in Grozny over cartoons

HUNDREDS of thousands of people protested in Russia’s Chechnya region yesterday against what its Kremlin-backed leader called the “vulgar and immoral” cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published by French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Mixing pro-Islamic chants and anti-Western rhetoric, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticized Europe to chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) as the protesters stood along the main thoroughfare of Chechnya’s capital, Grozny.

Some carried signs declaring “I love my Prophet Mohammad” in English and others waved flags, as security service helicopters flew overhead and police stood by. “If needed, we are ready to die to stop anyone who thinks that you can irresponsibly defile the name of the prophet,” Kadyrov said, wiping away tears on stage.

“You and I see how European journalists and politicians under false slogans about free speech and democracy proclaim the freedom to be vulgar, rude and insult the religious feelings of hundreds of millions of believers,” he said.

The rally ended when a call to prayer was blasted over loudspeakers.

Charlie Hebdo published a picture of Mohammad weeping on its cover last week after gunmen stormed its offices, killing 12 people. The gunmen said the attack was revenge for cartoons the magazine had published mocking Islam.

Demonstrations have taken place in several Muslim countries since then, some turning violent. French President Francois Hollande said anti-Charlie Hebdo protesters do not understand France’s attachment to freedom of speech.

Russia’s Interior Ministry said 800,000 people had attended the rally — about 60 percent of Chechnya’s population. Kadyrov is barred from entering the United States for alleged human rights abuses and the European Union under sanctions related to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Kadyrov is fighting an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamist state in the North Caucasus.


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