Afghans protest against French cartoons, US film

Hundreds of Afghans on Thursday protested for the first time against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in France and staged fresh rallies against a US-made anti-Islam film.

About 300 students chanted "death to France, death to America" in a western neighbourhood of the capital Kabul, an AFP photographer said.

Nearby, hundreds more gathered on a flyover and chanted "death to America" and "long live Islam, long live Afghanistan", another AFP photographer said.

Both demonstrations were peaceful, condemning new Mohammed cartoons published by a French satirical magazine on Wednesday and the low-budget film "Innocence of Muslims", which has triggered protests around the world.

Similar rallies have been held across Afghanistan in the last four days.

On Monday, a protest of more than 1,000 residents in eastern Kabul turned violent when the crowd set fire to cars and threw stones at police. About 50 officers were slightly wounded.

Afghanistan is a devoutly Muslim nation and perceived insults to religion are taken very seriously, often with violent consequences.

Earlier this year 40 people were killed in street unrest over the burning of copies of the Koran by US soldiers on a base.

France has said that on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, it will close diplomatic missions, cultural centres and French schools in around 20 Muslim countries for fear of violent protests over the cartoons.

More than 30 people have been killed worldwide in attacks and violent protests linked to "Innocence of Muslims", including 12 people who died in an attack by a female suicide bomber in Kabul on Tuesday.

The crudely made film produced by US-based extremist Christians has triggered protests in at least 20 countries since excerpts were posted online.

In reaction to the uproar, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons mocking the film and caricaturing the Muslim prophet, including two drawings showing him naked.

Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stephane Charbonnier, described those getting irate over the cartoons as "ridiculous clowns" and accused the French government of pandering to them by criticising him for being provocative.

The left-wing publication's offices were firebombed last year after it published an edition "guest-edited by Mohammed" that it called Sharia Hebdo.

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