French Muslim groups call for calm over new Charlie Hebdo cover

PARIS (AFP) - French Muslim groups called for calm and respect for freedom of opinion on Tuesday ahead of the release of the new issue of Charlie Hebdo magazine which features a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The French Council of the Muslim Religion and the Union of French Islamic Organisations released a joint statement calling for the Muslim community to "stay calm and avoid emotive reactions that are incompatible with its dignity... while respecting freedom of opinion."

The new issue of Charlie Hebdo is to be published on Wednesday, a week after two Islamic militant gunmen stormed the Paris offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12 people.

Its cover features the Prophet with a tear in his eye, holding a "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) under the headline "All is forgiven".

Depictions of Muhammad are seen by many Muslims as sacrilegious and Charlie Hebdo became a target for extremists after repeatedly printing cartoons of the Prophet.

Some people have said that, while they support free speech, they are "not Charlie" because they feel the magazine stigmatises Muslims.

The Arab World Institute in Paris has, however, come out in full support of the solidarity campaign.

Giant red letters proclaiming "We are all Charlie" in Arabic and French have been hung on the facade of the cultural institute, which was co-founded by France and 18 Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen.