Afghanistan anti-Charlie Hebdo protest draws 20,000, biggest rally yet

HERAT, Afghanistan - At least 20,000 people protested in the western Afghan city of Herat on Friday against French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

The demonstrators burned French flags, chanted death slogans against France and demanded Paris apologise to Muslims in Afghanistan's biggest rally yet against the weekly.

A smaller protest was held in the capital Kabul, where a few demonstrators threw stones at the French embassy, prompting guards to fire one or two warning shots.

"No Muslim can tolerate insults to our beloved prophet Mohammed, we demand the French government apologise to all Muslims and punish those who have insulted Islam," said one protester in Herat.

There have been small, sporadic protests across Afghanistan since the magazine ran a cover image of the prophet with a tear in his eye, holding a sign saying "Je suis Charlie".

That "survivors' edition" followed an attack on the magazine's offices in Paris in which 12 people were gunned down by Islamist militants. The massacre triggered a huge outpouring of anger and grief on social media, much of it using the hashtag "#jesuisCharlie".

An AFP reporter at the scene in Herat and the provincial governor's spokesman Ehsanullah Hayat said the crowd was at least 20,000 strong.

In Kabul, several thousand people rallied in the city centre chanting "death to France, death to the enemies of Islam".

The protesters in Kabul also held posters depicting a red heart and the name of the Prophet as they marched on the streets of Kabul.

"We condemn those who published our prophet's cartoons and we curse those who have done this vicious act," said Abdul Salam Abid, a leading cleric in central Kabul mosque among the protesters.

"This gathering is a slap in the face of those who have desecrated our beloved prophet," he said.

Images of the prophet are considered blasphemous by many Muslims and the magazine's publishing of the cartoon has trigged protests in many Muslim countries around the world.