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Chechen leader says Macron stance on cartoons inspires terrorists

FILE PHOTO: MMA - UFC 242 - Khabib Nurmagomedov & Dustin Poirier - Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - September 7, 2019 Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov looks on while in attendance REUTERS/Christopher Pike

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The leader of Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya region said on Tuesday that French President Emmanuel Macron was inspiring terrorists by justifying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad as protected by free speech rights.

Ramzan Kadyrov, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, made the comments after France warned its citizens living or travelling in several Muslim-majority countries to take extra security precautions because of anger over the cartoons.

The row has its roots in a knife attack outside a French school on Oct. 16 in which a man of Chechen origin beheaded Samuel Paty, a teacher who had shown pupils cartoons of Prophet Mohammad in a lesson on freedom of speech.

The caricatures, first published by a satirical magazine whose Paris offices were attacked by gunmen killing 12 people in 2015, are considered blasphemous by many Muslims.

Kadyrov, an ex-rebel who endorsed a Kremlin military campaign that crushed an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya and nearby Russian regions, has played down the fact that Paty’s attacker was born in Chechnya, saying he grew up in France.

In an Instagram post on Tuesday, Kadyrov said Macron was wrong to characterise the display of such cartoons as free speech.

“You are forcing people into terrorism, pushing people towards it, not leaving them any choice, creating the conditions for the growth of extremism in young people’s heads. You can boldly call yourself the leader and inspiration of terrorism in your country,” Kadyrov wrote, addressing Macron.

Macron has hailed Paty as “a quiet hero” and has pledged to fight “Islamist separatism” in France.

Asked by Reuters to comment, an official in the French presidential administration said: “We won’t be intimidated and we put on notice those who sow hatred, which, in Kadyrov’s case, is unacceptable.”

Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Peter Graff and Jon Boyle