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French magazine threatens to publish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad
Fears that a wave of anger in the Islamic world could spread to Europe mounted Tuesday as it emerged that a French magazine was planning to publish cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Muhammed.
Satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo confirmed that its latest edition contains several cartoons featuring Muhammed that the publication's editor said would "shock those who will want to be shocked."
The magazine is due to hit the stands on Wednesday against a background of protests across the Islamic world over a crude US-made film that mocks Muhammed and portrays Muslims as gratuitously violent.
At least 30 people have died so far in demonstrations held in over 20 countries.
Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy over its handling of the issues relating to Islam.
Last year it published an edition "guest-edited" by the Prophet Muhammed that it called Sharia Hebdo. The magazine's offices in Paris were subsequently fire-bombed.
Charlie Hebdo's latest move was greeted with immediate calls from political and religious leaders for the media to act responsibly and avoid inflaming the current situation.
Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement expressing his "disapproval of all excesses."
The magazine's editor, originally a cartoonist who uses the name Charb, denied he was being deliberately provocative at a delicate time.
"The freedom of the press, is that a provocation?" he said. "I'm not asking strict Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo, just like I wouldn't go to a mosque to listen to speeches that go against everything I believe."
Dalil Boubakeur, the senior cleric at Paris's biggest mosque, appealed for France's four million Muslims to remain calm.
"It is with astonishment, sadness and concern that I have learned that this publication is risking increasing the current outrage across the Muslim world," he said.
"I would appeal to them not to pour oil on the fire."
France's Muslim Council, the community's main representative body, also appealed for calm in the face of "this new act of Islamaphobia."