February 4, 2006

Embassies torched as cartoon furor grows

By Rasha Elass

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish
and Norwegian embassies on Saturday as protests over cartoons
of the Prophet Mohammad showed no signs of abating despite
calls for calm.

Oil giant Iran, already embroiled in a dispute with the
West over its nuclear programme, said it was reviewing trade
ties with countries that have published such caricatures.

Chanting "God is Greatest," thousands of protesters stormed
the Danish embassy, burned the Danish flag and replaced it with
a flag reading "No God but Allah, Mohammad is His Prophet."
They set fires which badly damaged the building before being
put out.

No one was hurt as the embassy was closed at the time.

Demonstrators also set the Norwegian embassy ablaze. It was
brought under control by firefighters.

Police fired teargas to disperse protesters there and also
used water hoses to hold back others from storming the French
embassy. Scores of riot police were also deployed to protect
the U.S. mission.

Denmark and Norway advised their citizens to leave Syria.

Denmark is at the eye of the storm as the cartoons that
Muslim demonstrators find offensive, one of the Prophet with a
turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily.

A small Norwegian Christian newspaper was one of the first
newspaper outside Denmark to publish the cartoons. They have
now appeared in papers in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany,
Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway,

Sweden, which shares its Syrian embassy with Denmark and
Chile, was also dragged into the Damascus protests. It summoned
the Syrian ambassador in Stockholm in protest.

Sweden, Denmark and Norway said the Syrian authorities had
not done enough to protect their buildings in the capital.

There was no immediate comment from Syrian officials.


The row has already had an economic impact with Arab
countries boycotting Danish goods, but in a new twist on
Saturday, Iran said it had formed a committee to review trade
ties with countries that published cartoons deemed to insult
the Prophet.

"A committee has been formed to review trade ties," a
spokesman for the presidential office said.

From Afghanistan to Lahore, demonstrators rallied on
Saturday to condemn the cartoons in what has developed into a
face-off between press freedom and religious respect.

Newspapers have insisted on their right to print the
cartoons, citing freedom of speech.

But Muslims find depicting the Prophet Mohammad offensive.

European leaders have called for calm, expressing deep
concern about the furor that has become a lightning rod for
anti-European sentiment in the Islamic world.

A black wreath was laid at the Danish embassy in Ankara.
About 1,500 people were outside the Danish embassy in London.

About 100 people protested in the northern Afghan city of
Kunduz with some shouting "Death to Denmark," a resident said.

Around 500 students of Islamic seminaries or madrasas
protested in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, chanting
"Down with Denmark" and "Hang the culprits."

Dozens of Palestinian youths tried to storm the office of
the European Union in Gaza and pledged to give their "blood to
redeem the Prophet."


In South Africa, a court granted a request by a Muslim
group to bar publication of the cartoons.

Jordan's state prosecutor arrested the editor of a tabloid
weekly which had published the cartoons. He had already been
sacked by publishers of his Shihan weekly for reprinting the
turban-bomb cartoon as part of an article headlined "An Islamic
Intifada (Uprising) against the Danish insult to Islam."

Despite the number of European newspapers which had used
the images, European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told
La Repubblica it was not for the European Union to apologize.

"No, it's not Europe's duty, nor do I think it is the duty
of (Danish) Prime Minister Rasmussen. We don't have the power
to apologize in the name of the press. That would be violating
the basis of freedom of the press," he said.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of Muslim but secular Turkey,
a European Union candidate country, called for calm and for
mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims.

And a prominent British Muslim expressed outrage at
placards carried at a rally outside the Danish embassy on
Friday saying "Europe your 9/11 will come."

"I've been calling scores of Muslim groups around the
country today to talk about this," Asghar Bukhari of Britain's
Muslim Public Affairs Committee said. "Every single one of us
is outraged by this bunch of thugs."

In Denmark, a network of moderate Muslims established on
Saturday condemned the attack on the Danish embassy and urged

"It is terrible. This is no longer about the cartoons, the
situation is out of control. I cannot take enough exception to
it," said Syrian-born Naser Khader, the first immigrant member
of the Danish parliament, who initiated the group.