Danish consulate in beirut ablaze in cartoon row
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Danish consulate in Beirut ablaze in cartoon row
Sun Feb 5, 2006 1:12 PM ET
By Laila Bassam
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Muslim protesters set ablaze the Danish consulate in Beirut on Sunday, and the violent turn in protests over publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad drew condemnation from European capitals and moderate Muslims.
Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus on Saturday. They damaged the Swedish embassy and tried to storm the French mission but were held off by riot police.
"The Danish government urges all leaders, political and religious, in the countries concerned to call on their populations to remain calm and refrain from violence," Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said after the latest attacks.
Denmark is the focus for Muslim rage as images that Muslims find offensive, including one of the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily in what has become a face-off between press freedom and religious respect.
The Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes on Sunday to leave Lebanon and advised its citizens not to travel there.
One protester, among those who set the consulate on fire in Beirut, was encircled by flames and died after jumping from the third floor. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protest involving thousands of people.
Security forces arrested 174 protesters: 76 Syrians; 38 Lebanese; 35 Palestinians and 25 stateless Bedouins, a police official told Reuters.
"The violence now -- particularly the burning of Danish missions abroad -- is absolutely outrageous," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said, adding:
"The vast majority of people of the Muslim faith in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have exercised their right to protest about these cartoons in an entirely peaceful way."
As peaceful demonstrations turned to ransacking Danish diplomatic offices and burning them in Syria and Lebanon, world leaders as well as prominent moderate Muslims appealed for calm.
"This has nothing to do with Islam at all," Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Future television. "Destabilizing security and vandalism give a wrong image of Islam. Prophet Mohammad cannot be defended this way."
In the row, newspapers have insisted on their right to print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech, but for Muslims depicting the Prophet Mohammad is prohibited by Islam.
Protests about the cartoons raged at the weekend from Lahore to Gaza but mainstream moderate Muslim groups spoke out to warn against radicals hijacking the affair.
As well as in Denmark, cartoons of the Prophet have been reprinted in Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway and Poland.
CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
On Sunday's violence in Beirut, Mohammad Rashid Qabani, Lebanon's top Sunni Muslim cleric, said no matter how strongly Muslims felt about the cartoons they must exercise restraint.
"We don't want the expression of our condemnation (of the cartoons) to be used by some to portray a distorted image of Islam," he said.
The world's leading Islamic body rejected the violence.
"Overreactions surpassing the limits of peaceful democratic acts ... are dangerous and detrimental to the efforts to defend the legitimate case of the Muslim world," the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference said in a statement.
"Should we burn and destroy things? Setting fire to embassies and destroying them is wrong. The solution lies in diplomacy, not in guns," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said. "That (violence) is what those who seek a clash of civilizations want."
But with running battles being fought between protesters and security forces in Beirut, militants in Iraq called for attacks on Danish troops, the seizing and killing of Danish hostages and the boycotting of Danish goods.
Oil giant Iran, which is reviewing its trade ties with countries whose papers have published the cartoons, said on Sunday it had recalled its ambassador from Denmark.
Danish-Swedish dairy company Arla Foods said it is losing $1.8 million of sales a day in the Middle East. Its products were removed from shelves in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.
Iraq's transport ministry said on Sunday it had frozen contracts with Denmark and Norway over the cartoon row.
Syria stepped up security at Western embassies on Sunday after being criticized for failing to protect the Danish and Norwegian embassies. Fearing for their safety, scores of Danish and Norwegian citizens left Damascus by plane on Sunday.
In Britain, politicians and mainstream Muslims called for the police to deal with Moslem militants after a protest in London featured placards saying "Europe you will pay, your 9/11 will come" and "Butcher those who mock Islam".
"The placards that were on display were quite disgraceful and in our opinion seemed to constitute a clear incitement to violence, even murder," said Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain umbrella group.