Muslims set fire to Danish Embassy in Lebanon; thousands protest in Afghanistan, Iraq |

Muslims set fire to Danish Embassy in Lebanon; thousands protest in Afghanistan, Iraq

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Thousands of Muslims rampaged Sunday in Beirut, setting fire to the Danish Embassy, burning Danish flags and lobbing stones at a Maronite Catholic church as violent protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad spread from neighboring Syria.Troops fired bullets into the air and used tear gas and water cannons to push the crowds back after a small group of Islamic extremists tried to break through the security barrier outside the embassy. Flames and smoke billowed from the building. Security officials said at least 30 people were injured.The Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes to leave Lebanon as soon as possible, while Danes and Norwegians heeded a similar call in Syria, where violent protests broke out on Saturday.”It is a critical situation and it is very serious,” Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said Sunday on Danish public radio.Protesters also took to the streets by the thousands elsewhere in the Muslim world, a day after demonstrators in Syria charged security barriers outside the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and sent the buildings up in flames.Those attacks earned widespread condemnation from European nations and the U.S., which accused the Syrian government of backing the protests.The Danish foreign minister said: “enough is enough.””Now it has become more than a case about the drawings: Now there are forces that wants a confrontation between our cultures,” Moeller said. “It is in no one’s interest, neither them or us.”Syria blamed Denmark for the protests, criticizing the Scandinavian nation for refusing to apologize for the caricatures of Islam’s holiest figure.”(Denmark’s) government was able to avoid reaching this point … simply through an apology” as requested by Arab and Muslim diplomats, state-run daily Al-Thawra said in an editorial Sunday.”It is unjustifiable under any kind of personal freedoms to allow a person or a group to insult the beliefs of millions of Muslims,” the paper said.Anger has broken out across the Muslim world over 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media and New Zealand 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 for fear they could lead to idolatry.Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he personally disapproves of the caricatures and any attacks on religion – but insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country’s independent press.Iraqi Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki said his country has decided to cancel its contracts with Danish firms and reject any offers of reconstruction money from Copenhagen to protest the publication of the caricatures. The government had issued no official statement and the value of the transportation contracts was not available.Iran also said it has recalled its ambassador to Denmark amid the controversy.”Insulting the prophet was unacceptable, resentful, and a sign of barbarism,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said, adding that Tehran planned to take further action.Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya have also recalled their ambassadors to Copenhagen in condemnation of the caricatures.Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani denounced the violence and appealed for calm, accusing infiltrators of sowing the dissent to “harm the stability of Lebanon.”Lebanon’s President Emile Lahoud denounced the violence, saying: “National unity should remain protected and consolidated.” He warned against attempts to destabilize the country, and his government called for an emergency Cabinet meeting later Sunday.In Beirut, protesters came by the busloads to rally outside the Danish Embassy, where they chanted, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God!” Some 2,000 troops and riot police were deployed.A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said staff at the Danish Embassy had been evacuated two days ago.The trouble threatened to rile sectarian tensions in Beirut when protesters began stoning St. Maroun Church, one of the city’s main Maronite Catholic churches, and property in Ashrafieh, a Christian area. Sectarian tension is a sensitive issue in Lebanon, where Muslims and Christian fought a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.Lebanon’s Justice Minister Charles Rizk, a Christian, urged leaders to help end the violence. “What is the guilt of the citizens

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