February 5, 2006

Danish consulate in Beirut ablaze in cartoon row

By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Angry demonstrators set the Danish
consulate in Beirut ablaze on Sunday and the violent turn in
protests over publication of cartoons of Prophet Mohammad drew
condemnation from European capitals and moderate Muslims.

Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies on
Saturday in Damascus. They damaged the Swedish embassy and
tried to storm the French mission but were held off by riot

Denmark is the focus for Islamic ire as images that Muslims
find offensive, including one of the Prophet with a turban
resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily in what has
become a face-off between press freedom and religious respect.

As peaceful protests turned to ransacking Danish diplomatic
offices and burning them in Syria and Lebanon, world leaders as
well as prominent moderate Muslims appealed for calm and said
such violence damaged the image of Islam worldwide.

"This has nothing to do with Islam at all," Lebanese Prime
Minister Fouad Siniora told Future television. "Destabilizing
security and vandalism give a wrong image of Islam. Prophet
Mohammad cannot be defended this way."

In the row, newspapers have insisted on their right to
print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech but for many
Muslims, depicting the Prophet Mohammad causes offence.

Protests about the cartoons raged across the Muslim world
at the weekend from Lahore to Gaza.

On Sunday's violence in Beirut, Mohammad Rashid Qabani,
Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric, said no matter how strongly
Muslims felt about the cartoons they must exercise restraint.

"We don't want the expression of our condemnation (of the
cartoons) to be used by some to portray a distorted image of
Islam," he said. "Today is a big test for us. Let our
expression of condemnation be according to the values of

But with running battles being fought between hundreds of
protesters and security forces in Beirut, militants in Iraq
called for attacks on Danish troops, the seizing and killing of
Danish hostages and the boycotting of Danish goods.


Oil giant Iran, which is already reviewing its trade ties
with countries whose papers have published the cartoons, said
on Saturday it had recalled its ambassador from Denmark, saying
"freedoms should be accompanied by responsibility."

As well as in Denmark, cartoons of the Prophet have now
been reprinted in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan,
Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.

European leaders expressed deep concern at the upsurge in
violence and the tensions the dispute could cause in societies.

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

In Denmark, a network of moderate Muslims condemned the
attack on the Danish embassy in Damascus and urged restraint.

"This is no longer about the cartoons, the situation is out
of control," said group spokesman Syrian-born Naser Khader.

In Britain, a senior opposition politician called for the
police to deal with militant protesters after a demonstration
in London which featured placards saying "Europe you will pay,
your 9/11 will come" and "Butcher those who mock Islam."

"Clearly some of these placards are incitement to violence
and, indeed, incitement to murder, an extremely serious offence
which the police must deal with and deal with quickly," David
Davis, the Conservative Party home affairs spokesman, said.

"Whatever your views on these cartoons, we have a tradition
of freedom of speech in this country which has to be protected.
Certainly there can be no tolerance of incitement to murder."


As street protests spread and violence erupted, the
diplomatic rows over the cartoons escalated.

Pakistan summoned diplomats from several European countries
to protest at the "derogatory and blasphemous" cartoons.

"We reject the false pretext of freedom of press for
publishing these caricatures since freedom of expression does
not mean absence of any values, ethics or laws," a Foreign
Ministry statement said.

But EU 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.