French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the media during the visit to the scene of a knife attack at Notre Dame church in Nice, France October 29, 2020. (REUTERS Photo)
SINGAPORE, October 30 (Reuters): Tens of thousands of Muslims protested in Bangladesh on Friday after killings by a knife-wielding assailant in a French church prompted a vow from President Emmanuel Macron to stand firm against attacks on French values and freedom of belief.
French Interior Minister Gerald Damarnin said France - home to Europe's largest Muslim community and hit by a string of militant attacks in recent years - was engaged in a war against Islamist ideology and more attacks were likely.
Protesters marching through the streets of Dhaka, the capital of Muslim-majority Bangladesh, chanted "Boycott French products" and carried banners calling Macron "the world’s biggest terrorist".
"Macron is leading Islamophobia," said demonstrator Akramul Haq. "He doesn't know the power of Islam. The Muslim world will not let this go in vain. We'll rise and stand in solidarity against him."
In a Muslim-majority district of India's financial hub Mumbai, around 100 posters showing Macron with a boot on his face and calling him a "demon" were pasted on pavements and roads around Mohammed Ali Road.
France raised its security alert to the highest level on Thursday after a knife-wielding man shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest) beheaded an elderly woman in a church and killed two more people before being shot and taken away by police.
"We will not give any ground," Macron said outside the church in the French Riviera city of Nice, promising to deploy thousands more soldiers to guard sites such as places of worship and schools.
France had been attacked "over our values, for our taste for freedom, for the ability on our soil to have freedom of belief", he added.
The violence has come at a time of growing Muslim anger over France's defence of the right to publish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, and protesters have denounced France in street rallies in several Muslim-majority countries.
French investigators said the man suspected of carrying out the Nice attack was a Tunisian born in 1999 who had arrived in Europe on Sept. 20 on Lampedusa, an Italian island off Tunisia that is a main landing point for migrants from Africa.
AUSTRALIAN, INDIAN LEADERS BACK FRANCE
Several leaders in Asia expressed support for France after the attacks on Thursday, the birthday of the prophet.
"It is just the most callous and cowardly and vicious act of barbarism by terrorists and should be condemned in the strongest possible way," said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison had expressed his support to Macron, he told media on Friday. "We share values. We stand for the same things."
He also condemned as absurd comments by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad that Muslims had a right to be angry and kill "millions of French people for the massacres of the past".
"Freedom of expression is a right, calling for violence is not," the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia, Kamala Shirin Lakhdhir, said on Twitter in response to Mahathir's comments.
Mahathir said his comments were taken out of context, while a senior Malaysian government figure, Abdul Hadi Awang, said Macron's comments could not be justified.
"The French president’s statement exposes his hostility against Islam and its followers," said Abdul Hadi, a leader of the Malaysian Islamist party PAS.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also voiced support for Macron's position and condemned the violence.
"I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France," Modi tweeted on Thursday. "India stands with France in the fight against terrorism."
Thursday's attack came less than two weeks after a middle-school teacher in a Paris suburb was beheaded by an 18-year-old assailant who was apparently incensed that the teacher had shown a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad in class.
France has suffered a series of Islamist militant attacks, including bombings and shootings in 2015 in Paris that killed 130 people and a 2016 attack in Nice that killed 86 when a militant drove a truck through a crowd on the city's Mediterranean seafront celebrating Bastille Day.