Syrian demonstrators set fire to Danish Embassy (updated 12:17 a.m.)
DAMASCUS, Syria, AP
Thousands of outraged Syrian demonstrators stormed the Danish Embassy in Damascus Saturday and set fire to the building in protest of offensive caricatures of Islam's prophet.
Thick, black smoke was still rising from the three story building as firefighters struggled tried to put out the flames.
The protest started out peacefully but as anger escalated, people broke through police barriers and used the concrete barricades protecting the embassy as ladders to climb inside the building and set it on fire.
"With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God," they chanted.
Some removed the Danish flag and replaced it with a a green flag printed with the words: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."
The building also houses the embassies of Chile and Sweden.
Ambulances rushed to the scene and dozens of policemen stood guard, trying to keep the protesters away from the building.
There were no immediate reports of injuries.
Spokespeople for Danish and Swedish foreign ministries could not immediately be reached for comment.
The demonstrators were protesting drawings of caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad that were first published in a Danish newspaper several months ago. Witnesses said the demonstrators set fire to the entire .
Protesters have been staging sit ins outside the Danish Embassy in downtown Damascus almost daily since the furor over the drawings broke out last week.
Rage against caricatures of Islam's revered prophet poured out across the Muslim world on Saturday, with aggrieved believers calling for the execution of those involved, storming European buildings, and setting European flags afire.
Pakistan's foreign ministry on Saturday summoned the envoys of nine Western countries to protest the publication of cartoons of Islam's prophet in European newspapers, the ministry's spokeswoman said.
"The envoys of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Holland, Hungary, Norway and the Czech Republic were summoned ... to lodge a strong protest against the publication and reprinting of blasphemous sketches," the spokeswoman, Tasnim Aslam, said.
In its first official comments on the caricatures, the Vatican, while deploring violent protests, said certain forms of criticism represent an "unacceptable provocation."
"The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in a statement.
The cartoons, first printed in Denmark, and then published elsewhere in Europe, have touched a raw nerve, in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Aggravating the affront was one caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.
Muslims in Europe have reacted less passionately than their counterparts in the Mideast and Southeast Asia, but on Saturday, anger in Europe swelled, too, with demonstrators clashing with police in Copenhagen and gathering outside the Danish Embassy in London.
A South African court, meanwhile, barred newspapers from reprinting the pictures
In Munich, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she understood Muslims' hurt, but denounced violent reactions.
"I can understand that religious feelings of Muslims have been injured and violated," Merkel said at an international security conference, " but I also have to make clear that I feel it is unacceptable to see this as legitimizing the use of violence."
But incensed faithful in some parts of the Muslim world had no use for such words.
A leader of the Islamic militant Hamas group, which recently swept Palestinian parliamentary elections, told an Italian newspaper on Saturday that the cartoons were an "unforgivable insult" that should be punished by death.
"We should have killed all those who offend the Prophet and instead here we are, protesting peacefully," Mahmoud Zahar, a top leader of the militant Islamic group that won the Jan. 25 Palestinian elections, told Italian daily Il Giornale.
"We should have killed them, we should have required just punishment for those who respect neither religion nor its holiest symbols," Zahar was quoted as saying.
Hundreds of Palestinians turned out for protests on Saturday. In Gaza City, demonstrators hurled stones at a European Commission building and stormed a German government cultural center, smashing windows and doors. Protesters also burned German and Danish flags, and called for a boycott of Danish products.
In the West Bank town of Hebron, about 50 Palestinians marched to the headquarters of the international observer mission, burned a Danish flag, and demanded a boycott. "We will redeem our prophet, Muhammad, with our blood,' they chanted.
At least 500 Israeli Arabs gathered peacefully in Nazareth for the first protest against the caricatures on Israeli soil.
Leaders of Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia denounced the caricatures, but urged their people to stay calm.
About 500 people rallied Saturday south of Baghdad, some carrying banners urging "honest people all over the world to condemn this act," and demanding an EU apology.
Angry demonstrators took to the streets in Denmark and Britain on Saturday, a sign that European Muslims' emotions have heated up.
Fury over Prophet cartoons, calls for restraint
Sat Feb 4, 2006 4:47 PM GMT
By Rasha Elass
DAMASCUS (Reuters) - Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish embassy on Saturday as protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad spread and oil giant Iran said it was reviewing trade ties with countries that have published such caricatures.
Chanting "God is Great", thousands of protesters stormed the embassy, burnt the Danish flag and replaced it with a flag reading "No God but Allah, Mohammad is His Prophet". They set fires which badly damaged the building before being put out.
No one was hurt as the embassy was closed at the time.
Denmark is at the eye of the storm as the cartoons that Muslims demonstrators find offensive, one of the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily.
In another twist, Iran said it had formed a committee to review trade ties with countries that published cartoons that are deemed to insult the Prophet.
"A committee has been formed to review trade ties," a spokesman for the presidential office said.
From Gaza to Lahore, demonstrators rallied on Saturday to condemn the cartoons in what has developed into a face-off between press freedom and religious respect.
For many Muslims depicting the Prophet Mohammad is forbidden and European leaders have called for calm, expressing deep concern about the furore that has erupted over the last days.
Newspapers have insisted on their right to print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech.
Indonesia and Malaysia were the latest nations to publicly voice anger at the cartoons, joining a dispute that has become a lightning rod for anti-European sentiment in the Islamic world.
A black wreath was laid at the Danish embassy in Ankara. About 1,500 people were outside the Danish embassy in London.
Around 500 students of Islamic seminaries or madrasas protested in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore, chanting "Down with Denmark" and "Hang the culprits."
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".
PUBLICATION BARRED, EDITOR ARRESTED
In South Africa, a court granted a request by a Muslim group to bar publication of the cartoons.
Jordan's state prosecutor arrested the editor of a tabloid weekly which had published the cartoons. He had already been sacked by publishers of his Shihan weekly for reprinting the turban-bomb cartoon as part of an article headlined "an Islamic Intifada (Uprising) against the Danish insult to Islam."
Two New Zealand newspapers on Saturday reprinted the cartoons, which have now appeared in newspapers in Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Hungary, saying their decision was based on press freedom.
Polish financial daily Rzeczpospolita also published the cartoons, drawing the ire of Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz who said: "It is my conviction that the bounds of properly conceived freedom of expression have been overstepped."
But in an interview with La Repubblica daily, European Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said it was not for the European Union to apologise.
"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 apologise in the name of the press. That would be violating the basis of freedom of the press. If they feel it is right, it is up to the editors and the authors of the cartoons to apologise to those who feel offended," he said.
U.S. STEPS INTO ROW
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul of Muslim but secular Turkey, a European Union candidate country, called for calm and for mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims.
And a prominent British Muslim expressed outrage at placards held at a rally outside the Danish embassy on Friday -- "Europe your 9/11 will come" and "Behead those who insult Islam".
"I've been calling scores of Muslim groups around the country today to talk about this," Asghar Bukhari of Britain's Muslim Public Affairs Committee said. "Every single one of us is outraged by this bunch of thugs."
The United States also stepped into the row.
"These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims," State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper said. "We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."
The U.S. response contrasted with European governments, which have tended to acknowledge tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted papers' rights to print the cartoons.
In Copenhagen, young Muslims clashed briefly with police after they were stopped from boarding a train to go to a demonstration north of the Danish capital. Some of the roughly 300 demonstrators threw rocks and bottles at police but no one was injured, officials said.
At the demonstration outside Copenhagen, about 50 right-wingers held Danish flags and shouted "Denmark for Danes."
In London, several hundred demonstrators gathered under heavy police security outside Denmark's embassy, shouting slogans to protest the publication of the drawings.
Poland's prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, criticized a Polish newspaper for reprinting the images. And a South African court banned the country's Sunday newspapers from reprinting the cartoons.
Embattled Denmark found some support Saturday among Italian right-wingers, though. The conservative Il Foglio daily wrapped its Saturday edition in a double sheet with the Danish flag printed on the outside and pictures of packets of Lurpak butter on the inside. "We buy Danish" was written on the flag.
In Milan, about 50 supporters of the right-wing Northern League Party offered Danish beer and biscuits to passersby, Italy's ANSA news agency reported. The party's paper, La Padania, was one of two Italian dailies to publish the 12 caricatures on Friday.