Thousands of Muslims across Indonesia protest France’s defense of cartoon

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Indonesian Muslims marched to the heavily guarded French Embassy in Indonesia’s capital on Monday to protest France’s president and his staunch support of secular laws that deem caricatures depicting the Prophet Muhammad as protected speech.

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Waving white flags bearing the Islamic declaration of faith, more than 2,000 demonstrators, many wearing white Islamic robes, filled a major thoroughfare in downtown Jakarta. Authorities blocked streets leading to the embassy where more than 1,000 police and soldiers were deployed in and around the building barricaded with razor wire.

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The protesters chanted “God is Great” and “Boycott French products” as they marched. Their banners and placards slammed French President Emmanuel Macron, and some protesters stomped on Macron posters in the blocked streets, while others voiced their anger by burning portraits of Macron.

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Smaller protests also occurred in other Indonesian cities, including in Surabaya, Makassar, Medan and Bandung.

On Saturday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo strongly condemned terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice as well as remarks by Macron that were deemed offensive toward Islam and Muslims.

At a national memorial for a teacher who was beheaded near Paris last month, Macron said the teacher “was the victim of a conspiracy of stupidity, hate, lies ... hate of the other ... hate of what we profoundly are.”

Widodo said freedom of expression that tarnishes the honor, sanctity and sacredness of religious values and symbols could not be justified and must be stopped.

“Linking religion with terrorist acts is a big mistake,” Widodo said.

“Terrorism is terrorism, terrorists are terrorists, terrorism has nothing to do with any religion.”

The teacher, Samuel Paty, was attacked outside his school October 16 by a teenage Chechen refugee for showing the caricatures to students. The attacker was later shot dead by police.

Macron has been accused of spreading anti-Muslim sentiment while eulogizing the teacher.

Protest organizer Slamet Ma’arif told the crowd, including members of the Islamic Defenders Front vigilante group, that Macron was being aggressively hostile to Islam and called for a boycott on French products.

“It hurt us deeply and we demanded him to retract his words and apologizes to the Muslim communities all over the world,” he said from a truck modified with loudspeakers.

Monday’s protests ended peacefully in the afternoon.

The French Embassy said Macron made a distinction between Islam and militancy.

“President Emmanuel Macron made it clear that there was no intention at all to generalize, and clearly distinguished between the majority of French Muslims and the militant, separatist minority that is hostile to the values of the French Republic,” the embassy’s statement said.

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