France steps up security amid fallout from beheading teachers

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PARIS (AP) – France is stepping up security at religious sites as the Interior Minister said on Tuesday that the country faces a “very high” risk of terrorist threats, amid mounting geopolitical tensions following the beheading of a teacher who was showing his class cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

French diplomats try to quell anger in Turkey and Arab countries amid anti-France protests and calls to boycott French goods in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s firm stance against Islamism in the wake of the decapitation of October 16. European allies have backed Macron, while majority Muslim countries are angered by his defense of caricatures of prophets they see as sacrilege.

French national police have called for increased security at religious sites around the Feast of Saints next weekend, noting in particular online threats from extremists against Christians and moderate French Muslims.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told France-Inter radio that the terrorist threat remains “very high, because we have many enemies from inside and outside the country”.

He reiterated his intention to try to dissolve Muslim groups seen as peddling dangerous radical views or with too much foreign funding. He notably accused Turkey and Pakistan of “interference in the internal affairs of France”.

“There is a battle against an Islamist ideology. We must not back down, ”he said. But he insisted on the fact that “the Muslim faith has its place in the republic”.

Some members of the predominantly moderate Muslim community in France are calling for calm and defending the freedom of expression that the beheaded teacher sought to demonstrate.

The caricatures of the prophets have deeply moved many Muslims around the world. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the charge against France, questioning Macron’s mental state, and France recalled its ambassador to Turkey for consultations, a first in Franco-Turkish diplomatic relations.

Tensions between the two countries have been mounting in recent months following Turkish actions in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh. But this new spat quickly spread to other countries in Europe and the Muslim world.

Protests against France have taken place from Bangladesh to the Gaza Strip, Kuwaiti stores have removed French yogurt and sparkling water bottles from their shelves, Qatar University has canceled a French Culture Week and the Pakistani parliament passed a resolution condemning the publication of the prophet’s cartoons.

EU officials warn Turkey’s position could further damage its relations with its major trading partners and its long-standing efforts to join the EU.

“A boycott will only take Turkey further away from the EU,” European Commission spokesman Balazs Ujvaris said on Tuesday, insisting that Turkey must abide by the terms of its trade agreement on goods and goods with the EU.

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Samuel Petrequin in Brussels and Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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