France urges Arab countries to battle boycott calls

Demonstrators hold up signs as they protest at Umm-Al Fahem, Israel on Oct 25, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - France urged Arab countries to stop calls for boycotts of French products while President Emmanual Macron vowed the country would never give in to Islamic radicals.

Comments made recently by Mr Macron about Islamic militants and his reaction to the Oct 16 murder of a French teacher by a teenaged Chechen extremist have sparked tension with several Arab countries and populations.

Mr Macron said history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to pupils "because Islamists want our future", prompting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to suggest the French leader have "mental checks".

On Sept 2, Mr Macron had already presented a draft law to combat "Islamist separatism" in France, an issue that is being widely discussed in the country.

Calls for boycotts of French goods have since come from groups in Jordan, Kuwait and Qatar, in particular after Mr Macron vowed not to "give up cartoons" that depict the prophet.

On Sunday, Mr Macron said in a tweet: "We will not give in, ever" to Islamic radicals.

"We do not accept hate speech and defend reasonable debate," the French leader added.

His comments came as the French foreign ministry urged countries where boycott calls had been made to stop them and ensure the security of French citizens.

"Calls for a boycott are groundless and must cease immediately, as must all attacks on our country that have been manipulated by a radical minority," a ministry statement said.

It underscored the danger posed by "calls to demonstrate against France, in terms that are sometimes heinous and spread on social media".

The ministry insisted that France's position was "in favour of the freedom of conscience, of expression and of religion, and a rejection of all calls that incite hatred".

Mr Macron added in comments on Twitter that France "cherished" freedom, "guaranteed" equality, and experienced fraternity "intensely" in a reference to the nation's credo.

"Our history is one of fighting tyranny and fanaticism. We will continue," he said.

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