Five protesters were arrested on Tuesday outside the French embassy in Nicosia, where dozens of Muslim residents gathered to demonstrate against France’s stance towards Islam.
Police said four male protesters, one aged in his early 30’s and three in their early 20’s, were arrested on multiple charges including criminal conspiracy, while another person in his late 20’s was briefly detained for reportedly attacking a law enforcement agent during a clash incident.
Around 80 individuals, described as foreign nationals residing lawfully in the Republic of Cyprus, gathered outside the French embassy on Tuesday afternoon to demonstrate against what they described as anti-Islam rhetoric in response to a recent terrorism incident in Paris.
Local media said the first four suspects were detained in connection with an incident when the French flag was pulled down outside the consular building in Nicosia during the protest. A local judge later ordered them in remanded custody for five days.
According to media reports, Police Chief Stylianos Papatheodorou suggested the actions of those arrested over the tricolour flag were isolated incidents, saying the perpetrators did not follow the instructions of organizers at the demonstration
Muslim protesters in France and around the world cried foul over France’s response, with many perceiving French officials as linking Paty’s killing to Islam
A spokesperson for the French embassy described as regretful "the flare up of tension and the subsequent degradations that took place,” according to the Cyprus News Agency.
"We are thankful to the Cypriot police for their prompt and effective action in securing our diplomatic premises and to the Cypriot people for their strong attachment to our shared values," the official added.
Unconfirmed reports in local media said police had been on alert several days ahead of the protest, after reportedly receiving a heads up to be on the lookout for possible incidents of disturbance.
Anger in the Muslim world spread in many countries earlier this week, following months of tension amid the Charlie Hebdo trial, as well as following Paris' response to French teacher Samuel Paty being killed on October 16 near his school in broad daylight.
Paty, whose beheading by a late teen shocked the world, had shown cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students.
Some images were first published years earlier by a Danish newspaper and then by its French affiliate Charlie Hebdo, which re-printed them last month ahead of a trial where a dozen alleged accomplices are suspected of being involved in a deadly terrorist attack on the French magazine in January 2015.
French President Emmanuel Macron declared Paty a hero and praised European values, such as freedom of expression, while his government announced strict measures to clamp down on Muslim extremism, including closer supervision on foreign funding to Muslim groups and mosque foundations.
But Muslim protesters in France and around the world, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, cried foul over France’s response, with many perceiving French officials as linking Paty’s killing to Islam.
Some foreign officials also accused Paris of Islamophobia, suggesting terrorism crimes carried out by Muslim extremists in France have been the actions of homegrown terrorists or lone wolves, pointing to Paty’s killer as a case in point.
Paris officials have pointed out there was concern over some Muslims in France, using men who refuse to shake womens' hands as an example of irreconcilable cultural differences.