End ties with France in 24 hours, Bangladesh Islamist group tells government

upporters and activists of the Hefazat-e-Islam Bangladesh, an islamist political party, hold placards as they take part in a protest calling for the boycott of French products and denouncing French president Emmanuel Macron for his comments over Prophet Mohammed's caricatures, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 2, 2020. Photo Courtesy: Reuters

DHAKA (Reuters): Bangladesh’s biggest Islamist group on Monday told the government to cut diplomatic ties with France within 24 hours, as police stopped thousands of its supporters from marching towards the French embassy.
Tens of thousands of Muslims across Bangladesh, the world’s third-biggest Muslim country with more than 160 million people, have been protesting against remarks by French President Emmanuel Macron in a row about cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
There have been similar protests in other mainly Muslim countries such as Indonesia over the dispute, which follows a knife attack outside a French school last month when a man of Chechen origin beheaded a teacher who had shown pupils the cartoons in a lesson on freedom of speech. France has allowed displays of the cartoons, which are considered blasphemous by Muslims.
On Monday in Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of protesters demanded a boycott of French products and an end to the country’s ties with Paris.
“We are giving an ultimatum to the government to end diplomatic ties with France within 24 hours,” said Junayed Babunagari, head of Hefazat-e-Islam.
“If our demands are not met, we will announce our next course of action,” he shouted as mostly unmasked protesters wearing white prayers caps cheered him on.
Some protesters carried portraits of Macron with his face marked with an “X”, while others held up his cutouts garlanded with shoes.
The Bangladeshi government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has not reacted to the demands of the Islamist parties.
“We will not take any side,” said a senior foreign ministry official, who declined to be named citing office rules, adding that security had been tightened at the French embassy.
Both countries enjoy warm bilateral relationship, with France, which is the fourth biggest export destination for Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry.