Defiant Charlie cover stirs concern of Muslim anger

Paris (AFP) - French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo drew ire Tuesday with a new cover image of the Prophet Mohammed on the eve of its return to newsstands after the murder of its core staff by Islamist gunmen.

In defiance of the militants who killed 12 people in an attack on its Paris office, the new edition bears a cartoon of a tearful Mohammed bearing the slogan "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie").

He is shown under the ambiguous title "All is forgiven." Cartoonist Renald "Luz" Luzier said he cried after drawing it.

Last week's murderous attack drew global condemnation, including from several Islamic bodies, but the new cover quickly inspired concerns that it would stir hatred between communities.

Al-Azhar in Cairo, Sunni Islam's most prestigious centre of learning, warned that Charlie Hebdo's cartoons "stir up hatred" and "do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples."

Some feel any depiction of the prophet is sacrilege, and Egypt's state-backed Islamic authority Dar al-Ifta denounced "an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims."

Tabnak, a conservative online outlet in Iran, an Islamic republic notorious for throwing journalists in jail, stormed: "Charlie Hebdo has again insulted the Prophet".

And British radical preacher Anjem Choudary, who is under investigation for alleged links to armed militancy, branded the new publication an "act of war" and a "blatant provocation".

Nevertheless, many international newspapers, broadcasters and websites carried images of the cover -- some explicitly as a gesture of support for press freedom, others to illustrate the controversy.

Even in Muslim-majority Turkey, the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet was in negotiations to reprint some or all of the French edition of Charlie Hebdo for its readers.

Western governments broadly defended Charlie Hebdo's right to publish, even if some were concerned about a possible backlash from their own Muslim minorities or from groups in the Islamic world.

Violent riots broke out in Egypt and other Muslim countries in early 2006 over Mohammed caricatures by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which were republished by Charlie Hebdo.

"Regardless of what anyone's personal opinion is, and I know there are very heated personal opinions about this, we absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this," said US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf.

- English, Turkish, Arabic versions -

Charlie Hebdo is to print up to three million copies of its "survivors' issue", due out Wednesday -- far more than the usual 60,000 before last week's attack and a historic record for a French publication.

Money from sales will go to the victims' families.

French and Italian versions will be printed, while translations in three other languages -- English, Spanish and Arabic -- will be offered in electronic form, editor-in-chief Gerard Biard said.

"Turkey is in a difficult period and secularism there is under attack," Biard told AFP, explaining why the talks to produce a possible Turkish version were "the most important."

An advance copy obtained by AFP contained cartoons mocking the two Islamist gunmen who carried out the attack. One has them arriving in paradise and asking: "Where are the 70 virgins?"

"With the Charlie team, losers," comes the reply.

The remaining Charlie Hebdo staff who put the issue together said putting Mohammed on the cover showed they would not "cede" to extremists wanting to silence them.

Yet many non-European outlets did not reproduce the front page.

- 'Remain calm' -

Major Arab broadcasters Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera did not show the cover in their reports, but most French media outlets -- including newspapers Le Monde, Liberation and Le Figaro -- reproduced it.

The cover was also widely reproduced across Europe and in several major North American publications, sometimes partly obscured.

Some Western outlets, though, showed more caution. In Denmark, for instance, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that triggered 2006 riots did not reproduce the cover.

Britain's The Independent newspaper was the only major London daily to put the image in its print version. The Daily Telegraph's website cropped the cover to cut out Mohammed.

The BBC news website did not show it, but a presenter of the public broadcaster's Newsnight magazine show held it up briefly on air.

The Guardian newspaper's website included it with its report, but warned: "This article contains the image of the magazine cover, which some may find offensive."

The rector of Paris's mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, urged France's Muslims "to remain calm" over the cover "by avoiding emotional reactions...and respecting freedom of opinion".

The head of a big mosque in central eastern Paris, Hammad Hammami, said: "We consider these caricatures to be acceptable. They are not degrading for the Prophet."

Almost none of the newspapers in Italy and in Russia carried the cover image.

- US media cautious -

Some US news media showed prudence. The New York Times website reported on the Mohammed cover but providing readers only with a link to the site of the French newspaper Liberation.

The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and USA Today, though, did use it, and so did tabloids like the New York Daily News.

According to the French distribution company MLP, the issue will be available in several countries that previously never received it, including India, where there are around 170 million Muslims.

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