A French magazine has published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed claiming the right to free speech even as global tension grew over the film insulting to Islam.
In response, the French government ordered embassies and schools to close on Friday, the Muslim holy day, in about 20 countries and tens of thousands marched in Lebanon in protest.
The move by the weekly Charlie Hebdo followed days of violent protests from Asia to Africa against the film "Innocence of Muslims" and turned France into a potential target of Muslim rage. Up to now, American government sites have drawn the most anger since the film was produced privately there.
Violence linked to the amateurish movie, which portrays the prophet as a fraud, a womaniser and a child molester, has killed at least 30 people in seven countries, including the American ambassador to Libya.
In the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre, tens of thousands marched through the streets , chanting "Oh America, you are God's enemy!" Other developments included: - The French Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning urging French citizens in the Muslim world to exercise "the greatest vigilance," avoiding public gatherings and "sensitive buildings."
- Several hundred lawyers protesting over the movie forced their way into an embassy area in Pakistan's capital; the United States temporarily closed its consulate in an Indonesian city because of similar demonstrations; and hundreds protested at the film in Sri Lanka's capital, burning effigies of President Barack Obama.
The French magazine's action plunged France - which has western Europe's largest Muslim population - into a new debate over the limits of free speech in a modern democracy.
France's prime minister said freedom of expression is guaranteed, but cautioned that it "should be exercised with responsibility and respect."
The magazine's crude cartoons played off the film and ridiculed the violent reaction to it. Riot police took up positions outside the offices , which were firebombed last year after an edition that mocked radical Islam. Charlie Hebdo's chief editor, who uses the name Charb and has been under police protection for a year, defended the cartoons. "Mohammed isn't sacred to me," he said."I don't blame Muslims for not laughing at our drawings. I live under French law; I don't live under Koranic law."
Government authorities and Muslim leaders urged calm. "This is a disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation," Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Paris Mosque, said. "(But) we are not Pavlov's animals to react at each insult."