The chief editor of Charlie Hebdo has defended the satirical magazine's controversial depictions of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, saying the cartoons safeguard freedom of religion.

His comments were broadcast as five people were killed and churches set on fire in Niger on Saturday in fresh protests against the French weekly's Mohammed cover -- Charlie Hebdo's defiant riposte after two Islamist gunmen shot dead 12 people at the magazine in Paris.

Anger has mounted in several Muslim countries over Charlie Hebdo's caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, as jittery European countries step up security to thwart a repeat of the attacks in France last week that killed 17 in all.

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