KUWAIT: French cosmetics and perfumes are removed from display at a perfume store yesterday as part of a boycott in protest against cartoons depicting Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) published in French media. — Photo by Yasser Al-Zayyat

KUWAIT/ISTANBUL: Kuwait’s boycott of French products has expanded, with a leading union saying yesterday that most of its stores had stripped their shelves after French President Emmanuel Macron defended cartoons insulting Islam. Kuwait’s Union of Consumer Co-operative Societies said 60 of its 69 stores had pulled French-made products, with the rest of the establishments to “soon” follow suit.

Fahd Al-Kishti, head of the union, told AFP there will be no backtracking on the decision unless “insults” against the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stop. “There will be increased pressure in the coming days in case of any provocation,” he said. “We will stop marketing all products and brands owned by the French, or those to which the French contribute.”

Boycotts began Friday, and yesterday, images showed shelves stripped bare of French food products, perfumes and cosmetics. Kishti said that they stopped selling over 2,000 basic items, such as cheese and water. According to Ahmed Al-Thaidy, a professor at Kuwait University’s College of Sharia and  Islamic Studies, the boycott will likely continue until the “average Muslim feels that France has backed down”.

 “Any positive statements that are respectful of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), I would imagine will gradually break the boycott,” he told AFP.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday vented his outrage at the “scoundrels” at the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo for mocking him in a front-page cartoon. His office also vowed to take unspecified “legal and diplomatic actions” over the depiction of the 66-year-old leader. The publication has stoked fury in Turkish political circles and added to a sense of crisis enveloping Turkey’s deteriorating relations with France.

It came out just days after Erdogan called for a boycott of French products and questioned Macron’s sanity for promoting a drive against radical Islam. Erdogan said he had never personally seen the Charlie Hebdo drawing because he did not want to “give credit to such immoral publications”. But he called it “disgusting” nonetheless.

“I don’t need to say anything to those scoundrels who insult my beloved Prophet (PBUH) on such a scale,” Erdogan said in a speech to his party’s lawmakers in the parliament. “I am sad and frustrated not because of this disgusting attack on me personally but because of the impertinence taking aim at our Prophet (PBUH) we love more than ourselves,” he said.

Erdogan yesterday accused “Macron and those who share the same mentality with him” of pursuing “vicious, provocative and ugly policies that sow the seeds of hatred”.  France’s European Affairs Minister said yesterday that Paris would “push for strong European responses, which include sanctions” over Erdogan’s series of “provocations”.

Ankara prosecutors said they were launching an investigation into Charlie Hebdo for “insulting the head of state”. The cartoon was published in the middle of an emotional debate over France’s broader policy toward Muslims. That conversation has been lent urgency by the murder near Paris this month of a teacher who showed his class cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) previously published by Charlie Hebdo.

Macron’s defense of the drawings saw tens of thousands march Tuesday through the Bangladesh capital Dhaka and protesters burn pictures of Macron and French tricolor flags in Syria. Smaller protests returned to Dhaka yesterday and also hit the Indian city Mumbai and parts of the Gaza Strip. - AFP