ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s leader said on Wednesday that Western countries mocking Islam wanted to “relaunch the Crusades”, heightening a confrontation with France over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that have stirred anger in Muslim-majority countries.
In a speech to lawmakers of his AK Party in parliament, President Tayyip Erdogan also said that standing against attacks on the Prophet was “an issue of honour for us”, suggesting Ankara may be digging in for a prolonged standoff.
The row with France flared after a French teacher who showed pupils cartoons of the Prophet published in the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo was beheaded in France this month. The caricatures are considered blasphemous by Muslims.
In a sign of spreading anger at France’s defence of the right to publish the cartoons, demonstrators denounced France in street protests in several Muslim-majority countries.
“France down, it insulted our Prophet,” shouted protesters in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
Erdogan sharply criticised Macron at the weekend, saying the French leader needed a mental health check, prompting France to recall its ambassador from Ankara. On Monday, Erdogan urged a boycott of French products.
The Turkish leader again questioned Macron’s state of mind on Wednesday and, in remarks addressed to “the West”, described colonial powers as “murderers” for their record in Africa and the Middle east.
“They literally want to relaunch the Crusades. Since the Crusades, the seeds of evil and hatred have started falling on these (Muslim) lands and that’s when peace was disrupted.”
Turkish officials said separately Ankara would take legal and diplomatic steps in response to a caricature of Erdogan in Charlie Hebdo, which officials called a “disgusting effort” to “spread its cultural racism and hatred”.
The cartoon on the cover of Charlie Hebdo showed Erdogan sitting in a white t-shirt and underpants, holding a canned drink and lifting the skirt of a woman wearing an Islamic hijab to reveal her naked bottom.
“Our battle against these rude, ill-intentioned and insulting steps will continue until the end, with reason but determination,” Turkey’s Communications Directorate said.
State media reported that Turkish prosecutors had launched an investigation into Charlie Hebdo’s executives.
The row has its roots in a knife attack outside a French school on Oct. 16 in which a man of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty, a teacher who had shown pupils cartoons of the Prophet in a civics lesson.
PROTESTS WIDEN TO SOMALIA, MALI
The French government, backed by many citizens, saw the beheading as an attack on freedom of speech, and said it would defend the right to display the cartoons.
Macron has said he would redouble efforts to stop conservative Islamic beliefs subverting French values.
France’s foreign ministry on Tuesday issued safety advice to French citizens in Indonesia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq and Mauritania, advising them to exercise caution. They should stay away from any protests over the cartoons and avoid any public gatherings.
In Cairo, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said freedom of expression should stop if it offended more than 1.5 billion people.
The Grand Imam of Egypt’s al-Azhar university, one of the world’s most eminent seats of Sunni Muslim learning, urged the international community to criminalise “anti-Muslim” actions.
In the Somalia capital Mogadishu, hundreds of mostly youthful demonstrators gathered at K4, a busy junction leading to the airport and started chanting anti-French slogans and burning French flags. They were responding to calls by clerics in various Somali regions to come out and condemn France and boycott French products.
“We are going to use our muscles to defend Islam,” a middle-aged man, Mohamed Ahmed, who was at the demonstration, told Reuters when asked why he was participating. “We ask people to burn every product of France they come across.”
In Dhaka, hundreds of Bangladeshi Muslims took to the streets of the capital for a third consecutive day of protests, chanting slogans such as ‘Boycott French products’ and burning effigies of Macron, who they described as an enemy of Islam.
At a much larger protest on Tuesday in Dhaka thousands had turned out for a protest carrying banners such as “Stop Islamophobia”, “Boycott France” and “Lay siege to the French Embassy in Dhaka”.
Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Nadine Awadalla and Ulf Laessing in Cairo; Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Jon Boyle