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Cartoon protesters defy ban in Pakistan, envoy quits

February 19, 2006

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.

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 envoy’s departure was for security reasons.

The 12 cartoons, including one depicting the Prophet with a
bomb in his turban, were published by Danish newspaper
Jyllands-Posten last year and reprinted in many newspapers,
mainly in Europe, as part of a debate about the rights and
responsibilities of free speech. Many Muslims believe it is
blasphemous to depict the Prophet.

Protests have turned violent in several countries,
including Libya, where 11 people died, and Nigeria, where 15
people were killed in rioting on Saturday. Nigerian officials
had earlier put the death toll from the cartoon protest at 16.

Troops patrolled the Nigerian city of Maiduguri on Sunday
to prevent further violence.

In Saudi Arabia, newspapers 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,” 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.”

EMBASSY CLOSED

Flemming Rose, Jyllands-Posten’s culture editor, wrote in
Sunday’s Washington Post that his newspaper had meant no
disrespect for Islam.

“We certainly didn’t intend to trigger violent
demonstrations throughout the Muslim world. Our goal was simply
to push back self-imposed limits on expression that seemed to
be closing in tighter,” Rose wrote.

Denmark closed its embassy in Pakistan on Friday because of
security concerns and urged Danes to leave the country.

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 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.

MMA supporters burned tyres 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 cartoons of the Prophet and his
depiction in a sculpture at the U.S. Supreme Court in
Washington.

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


Source: reuters



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