DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Tens of thousands of Muslims, from Pakistan to Lebanon to the Palestinian territories, poured out of prayer services to join anti-France protests on Friday, as the French president's vow to protect the right to caricature the prophet Mohammed continues to roil the Muslim world.
Hard-line Islamic groups across the region have seized on the French government's staunch secularist stance as an affront to Islam, rallying their supporters and stirring up rage.
Demonstrations in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, turned violent as some 2,000 people who tried to march toward the French Embassy were pushed back by police firing tear gas and beating protesters with batons. Crowds of Islamist activists hanged an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron from a highway overpass after pounding it furiously with their shoes. Several demonstrators were wounded in clashes with police as authorities pushed to evict activists from the area surrounding the embassy.
In Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, an estimated 10,000 followers of the radical Islamic Tehreek-e-Labbaik party celebrating the Mawlid, the birthday of the prophet Mohammed, took to the streets. They chanted anti-France slogans, raised banners and clogged major roads en route to a Sufi shrine.
"There's only one punishment for blasphemy," bellowed Khadim Hussain Rizvi, a fiery cleric leading the march.
"Beheading! Beheading!" the protesters yelled back.
The demonstrations, largely led by Islamist parties across the region, come amid rising tensions between France and Muslim-majority nations, which flared up earlier this month when a young Muslim beheaded a French schoolteacher who had shown caricatures of the prophet Mohammed in class.
The images, republished by the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo to mark the opening of the trial for the deadly 2015 attack against the publication, have stirred the ire of Muslims across the world who consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous. On Thursday, a knife-wielding Tunisian man carrying a copy of the Qur'an killed three people at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice. He is hospitalized after being shot by police.
French authorities said Friday that they had arrested a man suspected of being in contact with the attack suspect.
A few hundred demonstrators in Lebanon's capital, Beirut, flocked toward the Palais des Pins, the official residence of the French ambassador to Lebanon, but found their way blocked by lines of police officers in riot gear. Waving black and white flags with Islamist insignias, the Sunni Islamist activists cried, "At your service, oh prophet of God." Some slung stones at police who responded with smoke and tear gas.
The anti-France protests in Lebanon is an embarrassment for Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, who is trying to form a new government that would implement a French plan for reform. France, Lebanon's former colonial ruler, has been helping the country chart a course out of its spiraling economic and financial crisis.
In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, worshipers thronged a Shiite mosque after Friday prayers, chanting religious slogans and holding signs lampooning Macron. Turkey has led regional condemnation of the French president, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's verbal attacks on Macron prompting France to recall its ambassador to Turkey last weekend.
Hundreds of Palestinians also protested against Macron outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, chanting, "With our souls and with our blood we sacrifice for our prophet, Muhammad." Some youths scuffled with Israeli police as they exited the esplanade into the Old City. Israeli police said they dispersed the gathering and detained three people.