Macron says remarks distorted, understands Muslim 'sentiments' over cartoons

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he understands the Muslim world’s “sentiments’’ over the derogatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad and there is an incorrect understanding that the French leader supported such publications.

Macron’s remarks arrive during heightened tensions between the French government and the Muslim world over the cartoons, which the French president has refused to renounce.

“The caricatures are not a governmental project, but emerged from free and independent newspapers that are not affiliated with the government,” Macron told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview set to be broadcast later Saturday. 

“I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these (free speech) rights,” Macron said.

Tens of thousands of people across the Muslim world have participated anti-France protests over the past week after French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, republished insulting cartoons of Prophet Muhammad to mark the opening of the trial for a deadly attack against its employees in 2015. 

Macron went on record to say that France would never renounce caricatures and will further defend freedom during a commemoration ceremony for the French history teacher, Samuel Paty, murdered after showing caricatures to his students.

“I think that the reactions came as a result of lies and distortions of my words because people understood that I supported these cartoons,” Macron told Al Jazeera.

The French president went on to say that there was “ violence practised by some extremist movements and individuals in the name of Islam,” which posed a threat.  

Macron also denounced the calls for a boycott of French goods as "unworthy" and "unacceptable", saying the campaign was created by some private groups "who relied on lies... sometimes from other leaders" about the cartoons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the first world leader to call for a boycott of French products after he slammed Macron over his remarks on Islam and Muslims.