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2 embassies set ablaze over cartoons
Los Angeles Times
BERLIN — The furor over satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad intensified across the world Saturday as Syrian protesters set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Iran threatened to stop trade with European countries whose newspapers have published the caricatures.
The anger in recent days has been particularly fierce in the Middle East, and the 12 drawings that first appeared in Demark have aggravated tensions between Islam and a largely secular Europe. Government and religious leaders have called for calm, but the anger in the streets from Gaza City, Gaza Strip, to Jakarta, Indonesia, has been marked by burning flags and calls for bloodshed.
Hundreds of demonstrators in Damascus, the Syrian capital, stormed through concrete barriers and set the Danish Embassy ablaze. The building, which also houses the Swedish and Chilean embassies, was severely damaged, but there were no injuries, according to news reports. As smoke whirled skyward, protesters throwing stones and chanting "God is great" attacked the nearby Norwegian mission.
Riot police pushed crowds back with tear gas and water hoses and prevented an attack on the French Embassy. Sweden, Denmark and Norway complained that the Syrian authorities had not done enough to protect the embassies. Sweden called the Syrian ambassador in Stockholm in protest.
Denmark and Norway warned their citizens to avoid the country.
"It took a long time before they put in all their force; it took hours before they all came," said Doris Danler, an Austrian envoy, said in Damascus. "It's strange that it could go so out of hand. You know what kind of state this is, so if something goes out of hand, it's strange."
U.N. urges calm
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for calm Saturday. The Vatican said that the drawings amounted to an "unacceptable provocation" and the right to freedom of expression "cannot entail the right to offend the sentiment of believers."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a security conference in Munich, Germany, said escalating violence would accomplish little. "I can understand that religious feelings of Muslims have been injured and violated," she said, "but I also have to make clear that I feel it is unacceptable to see this as legitimizing the use of violence."
The cartoons, including one showing Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb and another depicting the prophet as running out of virgins for his suicide bombers, spurred brief protests when they were published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September. In recent weeks, however, other European papers have run the drawings in a show of solidarity for freedom of speech and Western democratic values.
The Muslim world has viewed the cartoons as an assault on Islam that underscores an insensitivity to Europe's growing Muslim population.
Mohammad al-Habash, a Syrian legislator and director of the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus, condemned the embassy attacks as un-Islamic. But he also argued that the West has failed to understand the depth of anger roused by the publication of the cartoons and the severity of the crisis it could provoke in the Islamic world.
On Saturday, Iran issued its economic threat. "A committee has been formed to review trade ties," news reports quoted a spokesman for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying.
Last year Iran imposed a similar ban on at least one country, South Korea, that had voted against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In Jordan, authorities arrested Jihad Momani, editor of a weekly newspaper, and charged him with blasphemy for printing the cartoons last week. The protests also spilled over for the first time Saturday into Israel proper, after two days of angry demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza. Several hundred Israeli Arabs staged a march through the northern city of Nazareth, where the Bible says Jesus spent his boyhood, to express solidarity with Muslim world.
The caricatures have become the crux of a culture war defined by new reports of Muslim protests counterbalanced by more European newspapers publishing the drawings. Protesters hurled stones in Copenhagen, Denmark, and marched in London on Saturday, while a Polish newspaper printed the cartoons, joining newspapers in Germany, France, Italy and other countries.
European officials are concerned that Muslim demonstrations in Europe could spark counterprotests by neo-Nazi groups. Europe's Muslim population has doubled over the past two decades, leading to increased support for some right-wing parties that have moved from the political fringes to winning seats in parliaments.
The Washington Post and
The Associated Press contributed
to this report.
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