From Khurram Shahzad, AFP 

Tens of thousands across Afghanistan, Pakistan and Muslim-majority Indian Kashmir took to the streets on Friday for southern Asia’s biggest protests yet against satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s cartoon portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed.

Up to 20,000 demonstrators in the western Afghan city of Herat and 15,000 in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, burned French flags and chanted slogans calling for France’s downfall, while a smaller Pakistani protest saw an effigy of France’s President Francois Hollande set on fire.

In Srinagar, the largest city on the Indian-controlled side of the disputed region of Kashmir, police clashed with a contingent of around 3,000 demonstrators after shops and businesses were ordered to close by a leading Muslim organisation and several separatist groups.

The clashes broke out when police fired smoke canisters and shot into the air to disperse a group of protestors who began chanting “Down with Charlie Hebdo” after emerging from mosques.

Islamist gunmen stormed the offices of French weekly Charlie Hebdo — which has published controversial cartoons of the prophet on several occasions — in Paris on January 7, killing 12 people.

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In response, Charlie Hebdo last week published a “survivors” issue with an image of the Prophet Mohammed weeping on the cover, which has led to small, sporadic protests across Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Friday’s rally in Islamabad was led by the hardline Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party, and though peaceful demonstrators burned French, British and American flags, while urging Pakistan to cut ties with Paris and calling for a boycott of French products.

Carrying placards and banners, protesters in Islamabad chanted “death to France”, “our prophet, our honour” and “death to the blasphemers”.

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