February 8, 2006

Afghan police kill three in cartoon protests

By Robert Birsel

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan police fired at a crowd trying to
storm a U.S. military base on Wednesday, killing three and
wounding 20 in fresh protests over cartoons depicting Prophet
Mohammad that have unleashed rage across the Muslim world.

The latest deaths in the town of Qalat, in southern Zabul
province, brought the total number of Afghans who have been
killed this week during protests to 10.

Afghanistan's top religious council called for an end to
the protests saying people would use the disturbances for
purposes of sabotage.

Tens of thousands of Muslims have demonstrated in the
Middle East, Asia and Africa over the drawings, first published
in Denmark, then Norway and then several other European

Police in Qalat had at first fired into the air to disperse
about 600 protesters after they hurled stones at police and set
alight at least one police vehicle, provincial police chief
Nasim Mullahkhel said.

Some protesters then tried to attack a nearby U.S. military
base and police fired to stop them, Mullahkhel said.

"So far, we've received three dead bodies and 20 wounded,"
said Zahir Shah, a doctor at Qalat's main hospital

Seven policemen were wounded, Mullahkhel said.


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

A French satirical weekly reprinted cartoons of the Prophet
Mohammad on Wednesday and published one of its own on its front
page, further angering Muslim groups which say the caricatures
are blasphemous.

French Muslim organizations tried to prevent the weekly
Charlie-Hebdo from reprinting the 12 cartoons, which were first
published by the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, but a court
rejected their suit on Tuesday on a technicality.

The weekly's front page carried the new cartoon depicting
the Prophet Mohammad burying his face in his hands and saying:
"It's hard to be loved by fools."

Like many across the Muslim world, 35-year-old construction
engineer Mohammad Amin in Kabul said he could not understand
why newspapers were still printing the cartoons, when they knew
how inflammatory they were.

"Aren't they deliberately promoting violence, religious
hatred and a clash of civilisations? If not, why do they print
them again and again?"

"Let's not fool ourselves and the world with this slogan of
'freedom of speech'," he said.

Moderate Muslims, while condemning the cartoons, have
expressed fears radicals are hijacking debate over the boundary
between media freedom and religious respect.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- seen as the most religiously
influential countries throughout the Arab world with large
Sunni Muslim population -- have not witnessed violent protests.

Analysts said Syria and Iran, both at loggerheads with the
West -- used the furor to stir anti-Western violent protests
for political means.


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

"We're facing a growing global crisis that has the
potential to escalate beyond the control of governments and
other authorities," he said.

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.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country,
government officials and religious leaders urged calm after
Denmark told its expatriate citizens there to leave for their
own safety.

Muslims burned the flag of Italy and called for the boycott
of goods from European Union in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka on

The protesters tried to march to the capital's diplomatic
enclave but were stopped by police. They chanted, "Jihad,
jihad. Boycott EU goods and punish the devils out there."

The cartoons have appeared in publications in Australia,
Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Fiji, Germany, Hungary, Italy,
Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway,
Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, the United States,
Ukraine and Yemen.

Japanese foreign ministry officials said they had asked
some domestic media, in informal talks regarding the issue, to
refrain from carrying the cartoons.

(Reporting by Asian, Middle Eastern, U.S. and European