February 19, 2006

Cartoon protesters defy ban in Pakistan

By Zeeshan Haider

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Police fired teargas and rubber
bullets to break up a banned protest against cartoons of the
Prophet Mohammad in Islamabad on Sunday and Denmark said its
ambassador to Pakistan had returned home for security reasons.

The government banned the demonstration after similar
protests in Pakistan turned violent, with at least five people
killed in the past week.

But the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six
Islamist parties, said its followers would defy the ban and
around 1,000 protesters managed to congregate near a central
bazaar, chanting religious and anti-government slogans.

Denmark said its ambassador to Pakistan had returned home.

"The Danish ambassador in Pakistan, Bent Wigotski, has
returned temporarily to Denmark because it is practically
impossible for him to do his job under the current
circumstances," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Lars Thuesen, Director General of Denmark's Consulate
Service, said the departure was not a diplomatic issue. "He has
left the country for security reasons," Thuesen said.

The cartoons were published by Danish newspaper
Jyllands-Posten last year and later reprinted in many
newspapers, mainly in Europe, as part of a debate about the
rights and responsibilities of free speech.

They sparked fury in parts of the Muslim world. Many
Muslims believe it is blasphemous to publish images of the

Protests have turned violent in several countries,
including Libya, where 11 people died, and Nigeria, where 16
people were killed in rioting. Troops patrolled the Nigerian
city of Maiduguri on Sunday to prevent further violence,
officials said.

In Saudi Arabia, newspapers on Sunday printed an apology by
the Danish paper.

"Allow me in the name of Jyllands-Posten to apologize for
what happened and declare my strong condemnation of any step
that attacks specific religions, ethnic groups and peoples. I
hope that with this I have removed the misunderstanding," wrote
Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten.

"It is extremely important to point out that the aim behind
these cartoons was not to attack the Prophet at all or devalue
him, but as an opening to dialogue on freedom of expression."


Denmark closed its embassy in Pakistan on Friday because of
security concerns and issued a new travel warning, urging Danes
to leave the country.

Thuesen said there were no expatriate consulate staff left
in Pakistan, but that around 100 Danes had chosen to remain.

Pakistan has issued diplomatic protests over the cartoons
and recalled its ambassador from Denmark.

A leading Muslim cleric in the northwestern city of
Peshawar has offered a reward to anyone who kills one of the
Danish cartoonists who drew the pictures.

In Islamabad, demonstrators lampooned President Pervez
Musharraf as a lackey of U.S. President George W. Bush.

Police and paramilitary troops patrolled the streets,
barbed wire was placed across main routes -- including that
leading to parliament -- and vehicles were searched.

But around 100 protesters broke through the cordons and
were joined by hundreds of others from side streets. Police
fired teargas and when protesters retaliated by throwing
stones, fired warning shots into the air and what a local
official said were rubber bullets into the crowd.

Police put MMA president Qazi Hussain Ahmed under house
arrest in Lahore before he could travel to Islamabad.

Another senior MMA leader, Fazul-ur-Rehman, and a group of
around 30 followers, including parliamentarians, assembled at
one of the main entry points into Islamabad, but were forced to
abandon their march after police fired teargas.

"The whole Pakistani nation will continue and the Muslim
world will continue coming on (to) the streets until an apology
is offered for this sinister act and a promise made not to
repeat it," Rehman told followers.

MMA supporters burned tires on roads in the nearby city of
Rawalpindi, where police had detained over 100 activists.

In Indonesia, more than 200 members of the militant Islamic
Defenders Front pelted the U.S. embassy in Jakarta with eggs
and stones to protest against the cartoons of the Prophet and
his depiction in a sculpture at the U.S. Supreme Court in

(Additional reporting by Simon Johnson in Copenhagen, Crack
Palinggi and Benny Siahaya in Jakarta)