Thousands rally against Macron in Timbuktu
Protesters rallied in the northern Mali city of Timbuktu on Friday, organisers and local officials said, opposing French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of the right to publish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Angry demonstrators amassed in a central square in the desert city, where they trampled on photos of Macron and burned a French flag, according to a local security official Dida Ould.
“The aim was to denounce the deeds which harm the Muslim religion,” he told AFP by telephone. “Everywhere you could hear Allahu Akbar,” he added.
The local Muslim youth group which organised the rally put the number of protesters in the thousands. AFP could not independently confirm the numbers, however.
“Timbuktu cannot remain indifferent to this condemnation of the Muslim community,” Sane Chirfi Alpha, who attended the rally, told AFP by telephone.
France has been rocked by multiple deadly attacks in recent weeks that are suspected to be linked to Islamist extremism, including the latest at a church in Nice on Thursday when a knifeman killed three people.
In the first attack, on October 16, a suspected Islamist extremist beheaded a school teacher in France’s capital Paris after he showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on free speech.
Such cartoons are viewed as offensive to Islam.
The cartoons were those published multiple times by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the offices of which were attacked in 2015 by Islamist extremists.
Macron promised to “not give up cartoons” in the aftermath of the attack, sparking a wave of protests against the president and calls to boycott French goods in several Muslim-majority nations.
Mali, an overwhelmingly Muslim country in Africa’s Sahel region, has been struggling to contain a brutal jihadist insurgency which first emerged in 2012.
“The fight against terrorism in Mali and the Sahel could suffer by attacking the fundamental values of the Muslim religion,” warned Yehia Ould Bana, a youth leader, in a phone call.
France has 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel as part of its anti-jihadist Operation Barkhane.
Friday’s rally in Timbuktu comes alongside the Muslim festival of Mawlid, which marks the prophet’s birthday.
Aboubacar Cisse, a local elected official, said Timbuktu’s city hall had authorised the demonstration, which he described as “of great magnitude”.