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Caricature Row: Western Governments Protest As Embassies Burn

Western governments condemn Syria for failing to stop the torching of their embassies, as Denmark's mission in Lebanon becomes the latest to be set ablaze.

PRAGUE, 5 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- As anger in the Muslim world about the publication of a series of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad continues to flare, political leaders across Europe and the United States have condemned Syria for failing to prevent protestors from setting fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus.

Syrian riot police later used tear gas and water cannons to prevent protesters from storming the French Embassy.

Syria's Minister for Islamic Endowments Muhammad Ziyad al-Ayubi had tried, in vain, to convince the protestors to disperse. "Children of this dear nation, you have expressed yourselves more than enough," he said through a loudspeaker. "Go back to your homes, empty these squares, keep our country as it has always been -- in peace and security."

However, European ministers believe the Syrian authorities should have done more. Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said that it "is completely unacceptable that the embassy was not protected by the Syrians."

A similar note was struck by Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds, who expressed "serious concern" and condemned the Syrian authorities for "[allowing] these protests to escalate in this way" and for "not [fulfilling] their responsibility to protect our foreign service staff."

Sweden's diplomatic mission was in the same building as the Danish Embassy.

The EU presidency, which is currently occupied by Austria, on 4 February called the attacks "utterly unacceptable."

The United States also joined the condemnation. A White House spokesman said "Syria's failure to provide protection to diplomatic premises, in the face of warnings that violence was planned, is inexcusable."

The series of 12 cartoons that sparked the anger of Muslims around the world, originally published in a Danish newspaper, directly challenge Islam's ban on any depictions of the prophet.

The cartoons not only pictured Muhammad; several depicted his turban as a bomb.

Other European papers recently reprinted the cartoons, arguing that press freedom was more important than religious taboos.

The Protests Continue

The protests continued on 5 February in a range of countries.

In the Lebanese capital Beirut, demonstrators set fire to the Danish diplomatic mission, and at least 10 people were reported injured as the protesters rampaged through a Christian section of the city.

In the Palestinian territories, protesters burned tires and threw rocks at offices of the European Union, and a leader Hamas reportedly called for the those responsible for the cartoons to be killed.

In Afghanistan, more than 1,000 Afghans took part in a peaceful protest march.

Iran said on 5 February it has recalled its ambassador to Denmark in protest.

The Roman Catholic Church on 4 February added its voice to those condemning the decision to publish the images.

Copyright (c) 2006 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

... Payvand News - 2/5/06 ... --

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