France has stepped up security at its embassies in the Muslim world after satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo threw 'oil on the fire' by publishing a series of crude caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, including some of him naked.
Embassies, consulates, cultural centres and international schools in more than 20 countries will be closed this week as a result of the cartoons, which come during a period of heightened tension due to anger over an anti-Islamic film independently produced in the US.
The French foreign ministry issued travel warnings for French people in Muslim countries to exercise the 'greatest vigilance' especially around 'sensitive buildings' with specific religious or western significance.
The front page of Charlie Hebdo, the headquarters of which were last year firebombed for a similar move, showed a caricature of an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair, while several cartoons of the Prophet featured on its inside pages.
On the front page the wheelchair-bound figure is captioned as saying 'You mustn't mock' under the headline 'Untouchable 2', a reference to a French movie about a paralysed rich white man and his black assistant.
Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier, a cartoonist previously only known as Charb, said the images would 'shock those who will want to be shocked'.
He said the magazine 'does caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, but when we do it with the Prophet, it's called provocation'.
One of the magazine's cartoonists, who uses the name Tignous, commented: 'It's just a drawing. It's not a provocation.'
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius criticised the move, telling France 24 there was 'no point in such a provocation'.
He later told France Inter radio that the principle of freedom of expression 'must not be infringed'.
But Mr Fabius added: 'Is it pertinent, intelligent, in this context to pour oil on the fire? The answer is no.'
French Muslim Council leader Mohammed Moussaoui said there was 'profound indignation' over the publication of the cartoons, while CFCM, an umbrella group for French Muslims, expressed 'deep concern'.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector of the Grand Paris Mosque, added of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo: 'This is a disgraceful and hateful, useless and stupid provocation. We are not like animals of Pavlov to react at each insult.'
In 2005 Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten sparked a wave of protests by publishing caricatures of the Prophet in which dozens died.
In the past week riots have taken place at US embassies across the Muslim world, with the US ambassador to Libya dying when its consulate in Benghazi came under attack, over the Innocence Of Muslims film which was recently translated into Arabic and posted on YouTube.
The film severely denigrates the Prophet, any representation of whom is strictly forbidden under Islam.