GROZNY – Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Russiaâ€™s Chechnya region on Monday against what its Kremlin-backed leader called the â€œvulgar and immoralâ€ cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published by French newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Mixing pro-Islamic chants and anti-western rhetoric, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov criticised Europe to chants of â€œAllahu Akbarâ€ (God is greatest) as the protesters stood along the main thoroughfare of Chechnyaâ€™s capital, Grozny.
Some carried signs declaring â€œI love my prophet Muhammadâ€ in English and others waved flags, as security service helicopters flew overhead and police stood by.
The rally was shown live on state television.
Russiaâ€™s Interior Ministry said 800,000 people had attended the rally â€“ about 60 percent of Chechnyaâ€™s population. Reuters witnesses put the number at several hundred thousand.
â€œIf needed, we are ready to die to stop anyone who thinks that you can irresponsibly defile the name of the prophet,â€ Kadyrov said, wiping away tears on stage.
â€œYou and I see how European journalists and politicians under false slogans about free speech and democracy proclaim the freedom to be vulgar, rude and insult the religious feelings of hundreds of millions of believers,â€ he said.
The rally ended when a call to prayer was blasted over loudspeakers.
Charlie Hebdo published a picture of Muhammad weeping on its cover last week after gunmen stormed its offices, killing 12 people. The gunmen said the attack was revenge for cartoons the magazine had published mocking Islam.
Demonstrations have taken place in several Muslim countries since then, some turning violent. Niger declared three days of mourning from Monday after violent protests in the capital Niamey and Zinder at the weekend left 10 people dead and at least 45 churches torched. 173 people were injured, police said. – The Guardian