BEIRUT: Security forces bolstered their presence around the French embassy in Beirut Wednesday, security sources told The Daily Star, while sources at the embassy said that it will close its doors Friday.
The security sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the forces already tasked with protecting the French mission have been augmented with new arrivals.
The Lebanese Army has also deployed around the French cultural center in Sidon, south Lebanon, a Daily Star reporter on the scene said.
The center, which is guarded by police, remained open to the public.
The French consulate and French cultural center will also close Friday amid expected protests against French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, which published cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad Wednesday, sources from the embassy told The Daily Star.
French nationals in Lebanon received a text message advising them to be vigilant due to the current unrest in the Muslim world.
“It is highly recommended to stay away from gatherings, avoid using roads where street protests usually take place and stay away from vulnerable buildings (Western interests, places of worship...),” an sms sent by the French embassy said.
The message also advised French nationals in the country to limit their movement as much as possible in case any security incidents erupt.
A French official at the embassy would not comment on the publication of the cartoons.
“We have nothing to say now,” the embassy’s representative said.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that Paris has stepped up security at embassies in countries where there could be a hostile reaction to a magazine's publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
A press release issued by the French embassy in Beirut said that French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault recalled that freedom of expression constitutes one of the fundamental principles of his Republic.
“This freedom is exercised within the framework of law and under the control of the courts when referred there,” the statement quoted Ayrault saying.
The French PM also said that the principle of secularism is at the core of the French republican pact, along with the values of tolerance and respect for religious beliefs.
“That is why, in light of recent development, the Prime Minister is keen on stating his disapproval of exaggerated reactions, and calls on everyone to act in a responsible way,” the statement said.
The French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad Wednesday.
The move has been criticized by French authorities, who nonetheless sent riot police to protect the magazine's offices, Reuters reported.
The French Foreign Ministry also said Wednesday that around 20 missions and schools would close Friday because of concerns about possibly hostile reactions to the publication, according to AFP.
Last week, the surfacing of a low-budget film on YouTube insulting the Prophet Mohammad sparked a spate of protests, some of which were violent, against U.S. and foreign missions around the world.
The U.S. has slammed “Innocence of Muslims.”
Security around the American Embassy in Lebanon has been boosted since the protest over the anti-Islam film erupted.
In a rare public appearance, Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah called Monday for nationwide protests throughout the country.
Several demonstrations are expected to take place throughout the week. - With Reuters, AFP