Embassies torched as cartoon furor growsBy Rasha Elass
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies on Saturday as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad showed no signs of abating despite calls for calm.
Oil giant Iran, already embroiled in a dispute with the West over its nuclear program, said it was reviewing trade ties with countries that have published such caricatures.
Chanting "God is Greatest," thousands of protesters stormed the Danish embassy, burned the Danish flag and replaced it with a flag reading "No God but Allah, Mohammad is His Prophet."
The fire badly damaged the building but no one was hurt as the embassy was closed.
Demonstrators also set the Norwegian embassy ablaze. That too was brought under control by firefighters.
Police fired teargas to disperse protesters there and also used water hoses to hold back others from storming the French embassy. Riot police were deployed to protect the U.S. mission.
Denmark has been the focus for Islamic anger because the cartoons that Muslim demonstrators find offensive, including one of the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily.
A small Norwegian Christian newspaper was one of the first outside Denmark to publish the cartoons that have now appeared in papers in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
Denmark's envoy to Damascus, Ole Egberg Mikkelsen, said he tried to warn Syrian authorities about the protest.
"I personally told the authorities that a big demonstration was brewing and several times during the morning I requested the authorities ensure the necessary protection of the embassy," Mikkelsen told Ritzau news agency.
Denmark advised its citizens to leave Syria and said it was pulling out its diplomats. Mikkelsen said some of the 70 or so Danes there had already left. Norway gave similar advice.
Sweden, which shares its Syrian embassy with Denmark and Chile, was also dragged into the protests. The three Nordic countries protested to Syria for failing to protect diplomats.
"The principle of diplomatic relations is that diplomats can work safely and the fact that this has been broken is extremely serious," Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference in Oslo.
Syria's Minister of Islamic Endowments Mohammad Ziyad al-Ayoubi, responsible for all departments looking after Sunni religious affairs, criticized the protests for turning violent.
"We have the right to protest and we have the right to express (our anger) but we do not have the right to exceed the boundaries drawn by Islam in protesting," he said.
The row has already had an economic impact, with Arab countries boycotting Danish goods. In a new twist, Iran said on Saturday it forming a committee "to review trade ties" with countries that published the cartoons.
Protests continued throughout the Muslim world on Saturday in what has developed into a face-off between calls for press freedom and religious respect.
Protesters thronged at the Danish embassy in London. Around 500 students of Islamic seminaries protested in Lahore.
Dozens of Palestinian youths tried to storm the office of the European Union in Gaza and pledged to give their "blood to redeem the Prophet." Youths also stormed Germany's nearby representative office.
CALLS FOR CALM
European leaders have called for calm, expressing deep concern at the violence. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of Muslim but secular Turkey, a European Union candidate country, called for mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims.
In Denmark, a network of moderate Muslims condemned the attack on the Danish embassy and urged restraint.
"This is no longer about the cartoons, the situation is out of control," said group spokesman Syrian-born Naser Khader.
Newspapers have insisted on their right to print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech. But for Muslims, depicting the Prophet Mohammad was offensive.
EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini told La Repubblica it was not for the European Union to apologize.
"No, it's not Europe's duty, nor do I think it is the duty of (Danish) Prime Minister Rasmussen. We don't have the power to apologize in the name of the press. That would be violating the basis of freedom of the press," he said.
Pakistan summoned diplomats from several European countries to protest at the "derogatory and blasphemous" cartoons.
"We reject the false pretext of freedom of press for publishing these caricatures since freedom of expression does not mean absence of any values, ethics or laws," a Foreign Ministry statement said.
The New York Times
February 5, 2006
Embassies in Syria Are Burned in Furor Over Prophet CartoonBy THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 4 (AP) — Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday — the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, the police said.
Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons "an unforgivable insult" that merited punishment by death.
Pakistan summoned the envoys of nine Western nations in protest, and Europeans took to the streets in Denmark and Britain.
At the heart of the protest: 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues. The drawings touched a nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid depictions of Muhammad.
In a statement Saturday, the White House condemned the attacks on the embassies, saying, "We stand in solidarity with Denmark and our European allies in opposition to the outrageous acts in Syria today." At the same time, the White House criticized the Syrian government for not protecting the embassies better.
Denmark's prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has said repeatedly that he cannot apologize for his country's free press. But other European leaders tried Saturday to calm the storm.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said she understood Muslims were hurt — though that did not justify violence. "Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion," Mrs. Merkel told an international security conference in Munich.
The Vatican deplored the violence but said certain provocative forms of criticism were unacceptable. "The right to freedom of thought and expression cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in its first statement on the controversy.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, who has criticized European media for reprinting the caricatures, said there was no justification for the violence in Damascus.
Syrians Torch Embassies Over CaricaturesFeb 5, 12:13 AM (ET)
By ALBERT AJI
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday - the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.
In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.
Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons "an unforgivable insult" that merited punishment by death.
Pakistan summoned the envoys of nine Western countries in protest, and even Europeans took to the streets in Denmark and Britain to voice their anger.
At the heart of the protest: 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. One depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was practicing self-censorship when it came to Muslim issues.
The drawings have touched a raw nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Aggravating the affront, Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said repeatedly he cannot apologize for his country's free press. But other European leaders tried Saturday to calm the storm.
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said she understood Muslims were hurt - though that did not justify violence.
"Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion," Merkel told an international security conference in Munich, Germany.
The Vatican deplored the violence but said certain provocative forms of criticism were unacceptable.
"The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in its first statement on the controversy.
The United States called the burnings "inexcusable" and blamed the Syrian government for security failures.
"Syria must act decisively to protect all foreign embassies and citizens in Damascus from attack," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said in a statement. "We will hold Syria responsible for such violent demonstrations since they do not take place in that country without government knowledge and support."
But Denmark and Norway did not wait for more violence.
With their Damascus embassies up in flames, the foreign ministries advised their citizens to leave Syria without delay.
"It's horrible and totally unacceptable," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said on Danish public television Saturday.
No diplomats were injured in the Syrian violence, officials said. But Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds - whose country, along with Chile, has an embassy in the same building - said she would lodge a formal protest over the lack of security.
In Santiago, the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Chilean Embassy in Damascus was also torched but nobody was injured.
The demonstrations in Damascus began peacefully with protesters gathering outside the building housing the Danish Embassy. But they began throwing stones and eventually broke through police barricades. Some scrambled up concrete barriers protecting the embassy, climbed into the building and set a fire.
"With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God!" the demonstrators chanted. Some removed the Danish flag and replaced it with a green flag printed with the words: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
Demonstrators moved onto the Norwegian Embassy about 4 miles away, also setting fire to it before being dispersed by police using tear gas and water cannons. Hundreds of police and troops barricaded the road leading to the French Embassy, but protesters were able to break through briefly before fleeing from the force of water cannons.
Amid the furor, Syria's Grand Mufti urged calm, noting the demonstration had started in a "nice and disciplined way," but then turned violent because of "some members who do not understand the language of dialogue."
"We never expressed our anger in such a way, and we believe that dialogue should be done through guidance and teaching, not through killing, harming and burning," Sheik Ahmed Badr-Eddine Hassoun said in remarks carried by state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, or SANA.
In Gaza, masked gunmen affiliated with the Fatah Party called on the Palestinian Authority and Muslim nations to recall their diplomatic missions from Denmark until the government apologizes.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, about 50 Palestinians marched to the headquarters of the international observer mission there, burned a Danish flag and demanded a boycott of Danish goods.
"We will redeem our prophet Muhammad with our blood!" they chanted.
Mahmoud Zahar, leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, told the Italian daily Il Giornale the cartoonists should be punished by death.
We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully." he said.
Hundreds of Iraqis rallied south of Baghdad, some carrying banners urging "honest people all over the world to condemn this act" and demanding an EU apology.
Anger swelled in Europe, too. Young Muslims clashed briefly with police in Copenhagen, the Danish capital, and some 700 people rallied outside the Danish Embassy in London.
A South African court banned the country's Sunday newspapers from reprinting the cartoons.
Iran's president ordered his commerce minister to study canceling all trade contracts with European countries whose newspapers have published the caricatures, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the caricatures showed the "impudence and rudeness" of Western newspapers against the prophet as well as the "maximum resentment of the Zionists (Jews) ruling these countries against Islam and Muslims."
The leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan denounced the publication of the caricatures. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry summoned nine envoys to lodge protests against the publication of the "blasphemous" sketches.
Associated Press writer Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.
CARTOON VIOLENCE SPREADS
Arson and Death Threats as Muhammad Caricature Controversy EscalatesProtests across the Muslim world refused to die down on Saturday. In Damascus, demonstrators attacked the Danish and Norwegian Embassies while a Hamas leader called for those responsible for the offensive caricatures to be "punished with death."
Emotions across the Muslim world remained raw on Saturday and cartoon-related unrest in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe showed no signs of abating. Indeed, in many places -- spurred on by radical calls by Muslim religious leaders for the West to be punished for the publishing of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a number of newspapers in European countries -- the outrage has turned to violence.
By far the most excessive of the demonstrations on Saturday occurred in Damascus, Syria. Thousands of protestors gathered for a peaceful protest outside the Danish Embassy in the early afternoon, but it quickly escalated. Demonstrators began throwing stones, broke through a police barricade and stormed the embassy. Shortly afterward, they set fire to the building, which also houses the Swedish and Chilean embassies. "With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God," a number of them chanted. Demonstrators replaced the Danish flag with a green flag reading: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
The fire was extinguished in about an hour but, by then, many of the demonstrators had moved on to the Norwegian Embassy some six kilometers away. Police used tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to turn the angry mob away, but to no avail. The Norwegian Embassy, too, was set on fire. The protestors then moved off in the direction of the French Embassy before the police could stop them. Nobody was injured in either fire.
The violence and unrest come as Muslims across the globe voice their displeasure at a series of Muhammad caricatures printed originally in the major Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September. Though the initial response was muted, Danish Muslim leaders traveled to the Middle East to drum up outrage against the sleight in December. Papers in a number of European countries, joined by the Dominion Post in New Zealand, printed the cartoons during the week and indignation in the Muslim world overflowed. Islamic tradition prohibits the depiction of Muhammad in images and they see the caricatures as a direct attack on the prophet.
A widespread perception in Islamic countries that European anti-Muslim sentiment is growing is also fuelling their anger.
Statements by a number of radical Muslims leaders across the globe have done little to calm the situation. Mahmoud Zahar a top leader of Hamas, told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale that the caricatures of Muhammad were an "unforgivable insult" that should be punished with death. "We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully," he said. Hamas recently won landslide parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority.
A radical imam living in Norway, Mullah Krekar, didn't mince words either. "These drawings are a declaration of war," he said. Posters at a demonstration in Britain carried messages like "Butcher those who mock Islam" and "Europe take some lessons from 9/11." BBC television showed the caricatures earlier in the week.
In the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Saturday, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets in protests and stormed a number of European buildings including the German culture center and the European Commission building in Gaza City. They burned Danish and German flags. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry called in the envoys of nine Western countries -- France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic -- to protest the publishing of the Muhammad cartoons in newspapers in those countries. One day earlier, the Pakistani parliament unanimously passed a resolution condemning the cartoons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday ordered his commerce minister to examine the feasibility of cancelling all trade contracts with countries whose media had published the caricatures. The caricatures, Ahmadinejad said, show the "impudence and rudeness" of western newspapers. The president of Indonesia and the prime minister of Malaysia both condemned the caricatures on Saturday.
Vatican condemns cartoons
A number of voices in Europe have sought to defuse the situation and have called for calm. In its first official comment on the cartoon jihad, the Vatican spoke of the caricatures as an "unacceptable provocation." The right to freedom of thought and expression, a Vatican statement read, "cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers."
In Munich on Saturday, where a number of world leaders are gathered for the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy, European leaders made a plea for dialogue and mutual respect. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed understanding for the offence taken by Muslims. However, she added that, "Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion." Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, told the paper Bild am Sonntag: "Tolerance and mutual respect play just as large a role as the principle of freedom of opinion." French President Jacques Chirac said on Friday that Frenchman should exercise "responsibility, respect and measure to avoid all that could injure the convictions of another."
A number of Muslim leaders in Europe have joined the call for calm. Nadeem Elyas, head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims in Germany, expressed outrage over the comics on Friday, but nevertheless called for protests to remain peaceful. In France, a council representing the country's Muslim groups were taking a legal tack and looking into the possibility of suing the paper France Soir, which published the caricatures on Thursday.
Some reasonable voices could also be heard in Gaz Strip. Gunmen associated with the Fatah Party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas passed out carnations at a Catholic school there. They told the Associated Press they were there to apologize for the actions of other Fatah gunmen who had warned that churches would become targets of their protests.
"We came to show that we are united, Muslims and Christians, and that we oppose assaulting our Christian brothers," one of the gunmen said.