February 7, 2006

Four die in fresh cartoon protests

By Robert Birsel

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police shot dead four people
protesting on Tuesday against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad
that have unleashed waves of rage and soul-searching across the
Muslim world and Europe.

Tens of thousands of Muslims demonstrated in the Middle
East, Asia and Africa over the drawings, first published in
Denmark, then Norway and then several other European countries.
Some Muslim leaders urged restraint.

In Iran, locked in a nuclear stand-off with the West, a
crowd pelted the Danish embassy with petrol bombs and stones
for a second day. Protesters hurled a petrol bomb and broke
windows at Norway's mission.

The 12 cartoonists whose work touched off the firestorm
were reported to be in hiding, frightened, and under police
guard. Iran's best-selling newspaper launched a competition to
find the best Holocaust cartoon.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called his Iranian
counterpart "and demanded in clear terms that Iran does all it
can to protect the embassy and Danish lives," a spokesman said.
Tehran has cut trade ties with Denmark.

Afghan crowds attacked a base of NATO Norwegian troops with
guns and grenades and police opened fire, bringing the death
toll in protests against the cartoons to nine.

F-16 warplanes flew overhead in a show of force while the
Norwegians fired tear gas, rubber bullets and warning shots,
managing to restore order by early evening.

After rioters set Danish missions ablaze in Syria and
Lebanon at the weekend, the European Union presidency issued a
strongly-worded warning to 19 countries across the Middle East
that they were obliged to protect EU missions.

Iran's ambassador to Vienna said an attack on Austria's
embassy in Tehran on Monday was directed at "the EU presidency"
rather than Austria itself, current holder of the presidency.


Accusing "radicals, extremists and fanatics" of fanning the
flames of Muslim wrath to "push forward their own agenda,"
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen repeated a call for
dialogue with offended Muslims.

U.S. President George W. Bush called him to express support
and solidarity, Rasmussen said. The White House said both
leaders "reiterated the importance of tolerance and respect for
religions of all faith and freedom of the press."

Depicting the Prophet is prohibited by Islam. Moderate
Muslims, while condemning the cartoons, have expressed fears
radicals are hijacking debate over the boundary between media
freedom and religious respect.

Militants in Iraq have called for the seizure and killing
of Danes and the boycott of Danish goods over the cartoons, one
of which depicts Mohammad wearing a turban resembling a bomb
with a burning fuse.

In London, protesters have brandished placards demanding
the beheading of those who insulted Islam. One dressed as a
suicide bomber but later apologized.

Copies of a British student paper which reproduced one of
the cartoons were hastily shredded and the editor suspended
from a student union. A French court however refused to order
the confiscation of a magazine which planned to print the


Echoing calls for calm by leaders, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said: "I urge all who have authority or influence in
different communities ... to engage in dialogue and build a
true alliance of civilizations, founded on mutual respect."

Further protests erupted on Tuesday in Pakistan, Egypt,
Yemen, Djibouti, Gaza and Azerbaijan.

At least 10,000 people marched in the Bangladeshi capital
and tens of thousands turned out in Niger's capital Niamey to
vent their anger. State assembly members in mostly Muslim Kano,
northern Nigeria, burned Danish flags.

Croatia became the latest country where a newspaper printed
the drawings. The cartoons have appeared in Australia,
Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Fiji, Germany, Hungary, Italy,
Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway,
Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United States,
Ukraine and Yemen.

Iran, which has withdrawn its ambassador from Denmark, said
the cartoons "launched an anti-Islamic and Islamophobic current
which will be answered."

A radical Muslim group in Belgium put on its Web site a
cartoon of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, a Jewish girl
who wrote a wartime diary of hiding from Nazi persecution.

Saudi Arabia's Okaz newspaper rejected violence:

"Violence, spreading chaos and destroying facilities ...
only distorts Islam's image, especially after our enemies have
tried to label us with so many accusations," it said.

Some Danish Muslims agreed. "Fire and stones are taking
things too far," said Copenhagen barber Farzan Khatami.

Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily has apologized for the
cartoons, first published last September. The Danish government
has refused to do so, saying it is the paper's responsibility.