February 9, 2006

Thousands of Lebanese Shi’ites protest cartoons

By Nadim Ladki

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims
in Lebanon turned a religious ceremony on Thursday into a
peaceful protest against a series of cartoons in the Western
media lampooning the Prophet Mohammad.

The European Union sought to calm tension, calling for a
voluntary media code of conduct to avoid inflaming religious
sensibilities, while the United States accused Iran and Syria
of deliberately stoking Muslim rage.

The leader of Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrilla group pledged
no compromise until there was a full apology from Denmark,
where the cartoons first appeared, and European countries
passed laws prohibiting insults to the Prophet.

"Today, we are defending the dignity of our Prophet with a
word, a demonstration but let (U.S. President) George Bush and
the arrogant world know that if we have to ... we will defend
our prophet with our blood, not our voices," Sayyed Hassan
Nasrallah, the leader of Hizbollah, told the crowd.

The annual Shi'ite mourning ceremonies mark the death of
the Prophet's grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in Kerbala in Iraq
1,300 years ago. Security sources put the turnout in Beirut at
400,000 and similar processions are due throughout the day in
other Shi'ite centres; notably in Iraq and Iran.

Aid workers from Denmark were told to stay away from the
ceremonies for fear of reprisals, said the Danish Red Cross,
which has some 40 Danish staff in Muslim countries. Denmark's
Foreign Ministry warned Danes to stay away from Lebanon.


Publication of the cartoons, one of which showed the
Prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a fizzing
fuse, has incensed Muslims across the world and led to often
violent protests in which at least 11 people have been killed.

Muslims consider any portrayal of their Prophet to be
blasphemous, but the publishers of the cartoon, reprinted
across Europe and in other parts of the world, have insisted
they were just exercising their right to free speech.

The 25-member EU called for the media to adopt a voluntary
code of conduct to avoid a repeat of the furor.

By doing so, "the press will give the Muslim world the
message: We are aware of the consequences of exercising the
right of free expression," European Justice and Security
Commissioner Franco Frattini told the Daily Telegraph
newspaper. "We can and we are ready to self-regulate that

The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to travel to
Muslim countries to try to calm some of the anger.

But the United States accused some Muslim countries of
pouring petrol on the flames.

"Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame
sentiments and to use this to their own purposes," U.S.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday.

Both countries are at loggerheads with the West and have
witnessed attacks on Western embassy buildings. U.S. President
George W. Bush urged governments to stop the violence.

The president of Indonesia, the world's most populous
nation, said there was a lesson to be drawn from the cartoons.

"The rights of press freedom are not absolute," said
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "Whatever the faith, we
must respect it."

Indonesian Islamic leaders called on Muslims to avoid
violence. "There may be fire in your heart but your head must
be cool," said Din Syamsuddin, the leader of Indonesia's second
largest Muslim group, the 30-million strong Muhammadiyah.

Two staff at a university in the United Arab Emirates were
sacked after one of them, an American, made copies of the
cartoons in an attempt to spur debate among her students. Her
colleague, a British man, was fired when he defended her.

A Malaysian daily reported on Thursday that the government
had decided to suspend the publishing license of the Sarawak
Tribune newspaper for publishing the caricatures last weekend
apparently to illustrate a story on the global outrage.

The directors of two Algerian television channels were also
sacked for showing the cartoons during news coverage.

The cartoons have appeared in publications in Australia,
Bulgaria, Croatia, 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.

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