Lebanon Apologizes to Denmark for Protests

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — Lebanon apologized Monday to Denmark after rampaging Muslim demonstrators set fire to its diplomatic mission in Beirut, while violent protests escalated throughout the Muslim world against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in Western newspapers.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police and soldiers during a protest in the central city of Mihtarlam, killing one person and wounding seven. Police fired on the crowd after a protester shot at them and others threw stones and knives, said Dad Mohammed Rasa, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

Police used batons and rifle butts to break up a crowd of 200 protesters in front of the presidential palace in Kabul, the Afghan capital. At least three people were injured and seven arrested. Some protesters also threw stones at a guard house outside the main American base in the city, but no injuries were reported.

Elsewhere, violent protests broke out in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Hundreds of demonstrators hurled rocks at the Danish and American consulates in Surabaya, while protesters burned Danish flags in other cities.

The main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir came to a standstill as shops, businesses and schools shut down for a day to protest the drawings. Dozens of protesters torched Danish flags, burned tires and shouted slogans across Srinagar. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up protesters in New Delhi.

About 400 Muslims also stomped on Denmark’s flag outside the country’s embassy in Bangkok, Thailand.

European leaders, meanwhile, called for an end to violence.

“I understand that, when religious feelings are hurt, that can be expressed, but violence cannot be a means in the discussion,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

The prime ministers of Spain and Turkey appealed for calm in a column in the International Herald Tribune, saying: “We shall all be the losers if we fail to immediately defuse this situation, which can only leave a trail of mistrust and misunderstanding between both sides in its wake.”

The Lebanese Cabinet apologized to Denmark following a late Sunday emergency meeting. Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said the government had unanimously “rejected and condemned the acts of riots … that harmed Lebanon’s reputation and its civilized image and the noble aim of the demonstration.”

At least one person died, 30 were injured and about 200 were detained in the violence Sunday, officials said. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the arrested included 76 Syrians, 35 Palestinians and 38 Lebanese.

The protesters set the building housing the Danish Embassy ablaze and threw stones at a Maronite Catholic church — the first attack on Christians since the protests began. Muslim clerics also denounced the violence Sunday, with some wading into the mobs to try to stop the attacks.

The day before protesters in neighboring Syria burned the Danish and Norwegian embassies, a fire that also damaged the Chilean and Swedish missions, which share the building. The United States accused the Syrian government of backing the protests in Lebanon and Syria, an accusation also made by anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians.

The Middle East has for months been a powder keg of anti-Western rage over the war in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But some observers say the furor over the drawings may have been exploited or intensified by some Muslim countries in the region to settle scores with Western powers.

Syria and Iran face growing pressure from the Americans and the Europeans on the issues of foreign extremists infiltrating Iraq’s borders and on Tehran’s nuclear program. And Egypt, one of the first to publicly criticize the series of cartoons, has been critical of the Danish government for funding critics of human rights abuses.

“This is an organized attempt to take advantage of Muslim anger for purposes that do not serve the interests of Muslims and Lebanon, but those of others beyond the border,” Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad, a Christian, said Sunday after riots in Beirut.

But Syria blamed Denmark, criticizing the Scandinavian nation for refusing to apologize after the caricatures were first published in September in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he disapproves of the caricatures and any attacks on religion, but insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country’s independent press.

The caricatures were republished recently in several European, Australian and New Zealand newspapers as a statement on behalf of a free press. One caricature showed the revered prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse.

Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.

In Lebanon, Interior Minister Hassan Sabei submitted his resignation at the late Sunday cabinet session following widespread criticism of the failure of the Lebanese security forces, which appeared to lose control of the streets for about three hours.

But Sabei defended their actions.

“Things got out of hand when elements that had infiltrated into the ranks of the demonstrators broke through security shields,” he told reporters. “The one remaining option was an order to shoot, but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens.”

Sabei, like other Lebanese politicians and Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, spiritual leader of Lebanon’s Sunni Muslims, suggested that Islamic radicals had fanned the anger.

Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Damascus, Syria, and Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
AP, via SFGate.com, USA
Feb. 6, 2006
Sam F. Ghattas
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday February 6, 2006.
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