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Hundreds of thousands of Chechens poured onto the streets as part of protests against French satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in the Russian Islamic region.
The rally in the capital of Grozny was in protest of the weekly’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in its first edition following the deadly terror attack on the publication in Paris.
Dubbed the “Love to Prophet Muhammad” rally and organized by Muslim clerics with the backing of the former war-torn region’s Kremlin-supported president, Ramzan Kadyrov, the event drew around a million people from Chechnya and other Russian Caucasus republics for protests on Monday. The figures were reported by the Kremlin’s English-language news service RT, quoting interior ministry sources.
The rally, which bore the hallmarks of significant organization by the authorities, was accompanied by the release of thousands of balloons asserting love for the Prophet Muhammad. Protesters carried placards reading “We love Prophet Muhammad,” “No to Muhammad cartoons,” “Islam is a religion of peace and creation” and “Violence is not the method.”
Speaking to the crowds who rallied near Grozny’s Heart of Chechnya mosque, one of the biggest in Russia, Kadyrov said Islam was a religion of peace and that Russian Muslims would not allow themselves to be used to undermine Russian stability. “We are announcing to the whole world that Muslims won’t allow themselves to be used to destabilize the situation in the country. We have always been reliable protectors of Russia. And now [we] are capable of giving a fitting rebuff to any enemy of our homeland.”
In a swipe at Western media organizations, he added that Europe had not learned any lessons from two attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead. “We see that European journalists and politicians under false slogans of freedom of speech and democracy declare the freedom of boorishness, and insult religious feelings. What freedom of speech are they [talking about] in Paris and other Western capitals?” he said.
The rally came after a Russian politician last week called for Charlie Hebdo to be added to a list of “extremist publications,” and the country’s media watchdog Romkomnadzor ordered websites to take down images of the controversial French magazine’s caricatures.
Kadyrov is known for using mass rallies to demonstrate his allegiance to Moscow. Last October, some 100,000 people marched through Grozny to mark President Vladimir Putin‘s 62nd birthday. Some participants at other Chechen rallies have complained that they were forced to attend.
Last week’s issue of Charlie Hebdo, the first published after the Jan. 7 attack on the publication, which killed 12 people, along with five more deaths in a hostage drama the same day, features a front-page image of the Prophet Muhammad holding a “Je Suis Charlie” sign. As many as seven million copies of the magazine, which normally has a circulation of just 60,000, were published as international demand soared.
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