Fearing violence, Germany closes embassies in some Muslim countries

Germany closed some of its embassies in the Muslim world for fear of protests over the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims"
BERLIN -- Germany joined France and other nations in closing embassies in some Muslim countries on Friday, the Muslim day of prayer, in the wake of violence sparked by unflattering depictions of the prophet Muhammad in Western media.

With a German satirical magazine planning its own anti-Islam cover for next week, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin issued a warning to its diplomats in the Middle East and other Muslim areas.

"We have increased safety measures and boosted the number of security personnel in the region," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters Thursday. Although many German embassies in the Muslim world routinely close on Fridays, officials are braced for protests during this week's day of prayer.

Westerwelle said the decision to close individual embassies would be made at short notice depending on their locations. Last week, protesters in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, set the German Embassy ablaze in anger over the amateur anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims."

Earlier this week, the German satirical magazine Titanic said the cover of its October issue, which hits newsstands Sept. 28, would show the wife of former German President Christian Wulff with a Muslim fighter. Bettina Wulff, whose husband was forced to resign seven months ago amid a corruption scandal, has recently published a memoir revealing personal details of her time as first lady.

The forthcoming Titanic issue's cover reads: “West rises up: Bettina Wulff makes film about Muhammad."

Westerwelle said the cover "pours oil on the fire" lit by "Innocence of Muslims," which ignited violent protests across the Muslim world. Earlier this week, France announced that it would close some of its official buildings around the globe Friday over fears of a backlash against satirical cartoons of Muhammad in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"Freedom of expression does not allow for freedom to insult, offend or vilify other faiths," said Westerwelle. He added that responsibility comes along with freedom.

In several German cities Muslims are planning demonstrations this weekend against "Innocence of Muslims" and its crude portrait of Muhammad. Germany is home to 4 million Muslims. On Friday, 800 people are expected to take to the street in Freiburg, and 1,000 people are expected in Karlsruhe on Saturday, according to city officials quoted in the German daily Die Welt.

In an interview with Spiegel Online, Titanic's editor in chief, Leo Fischer, defended the coming magazine cover, saying that his publication was simply reacting to the news and poking fun at Islam the way it has done before with the pope and other religious leaders.

"I consider the view that European Muslims are nothing more than sword-swinging crazies to be racist," Fischer told Spiegel. "I am relying on their understanding -- and on their indifference."

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-- Renuka Rayasam

Photo: Demonstrators protest the anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" outside the German Embassy in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, last week. Credit: Abd Raouf / Associated Press
 
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