GROZNY, Russia (AP) — Hundreds of thousands marched through the Chechen capital on Monday to protest the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which again put a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover.
Demonstrators in Grozny, capital of the predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia, released balloons and carried posters that read "Hands off our beloved prophet" and "We love the prophet, we don't love Charlie."
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on his official Instagram account Friday that those who defended the weekly Charlie Hebdo were his "personal enemies" and vowed that at least 1 million people would join the government-sponsored protest in Grozny.
On Monday, Kadyrov spoke from a stage wearing a vest with "We Love the Prophet Mohammed" written on it.
A police spokesman told Interfax news agency that 800,000 people attended the protest Monday, although those numbers were impossible to verify.
Russia, which has a large and restive Muslim population and waged two devastating wars against Chechen separatists in the 1990s, offered its condolences to France after the Paris terror attacks earlier this month. It has warned Russian publications, however, against reprinting any Charlie Hebdo cartoons that featured the Prophet Mohammed.
Roskomnadzor, the Russian communications oversight agency, sent letters to several local publications barring them from re-publishing the French caricatures and published a warning to nationwide publications on its Facebook page.
"Roskomnadzor calls on all national media to choose other methods of expressing their solidarity with their tragically killed French colleagues, rather than inflaming sectarian tensions in Russian society," the agency said in the statement.
According to Russian news agencies, 15,000 people joined a similar anti-Charlie Hebdo demonstration Saturday in the neighboring region of Ingushetia.
Laura Mills contributed reporting from Moscow.