Irate Muslims Stage New Protests

Police officers try to block angry Muslim protesters at the lobby of an office building housing the Danish Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Police officers try to block angry Muslim protesters at the lobby of an office building housing the Danish Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. (By Dita Alangkara -- Associated Press)
By Scott Wilson and Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 4, 2006

JERUSALEM, Feb. 3 -- Muslims emerging from Friday prayer services staged a new round of flag-burning demonstrations in many countries to protest European cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. Western officials, increasingly worried over long-term damage to relations, sought to calm the tensions, sometimes by calling publication of the images irresponsible.

"What the Europeans have done in their newspapers is a deliberate provocation to 1 billion Muslims around the world," Mohammed Hussein told about 500 worshipers in his sermon at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third-holiest site in Islam. "This cannot be tolerated."

He called on the crowd to "express your anger" in protests across the West Bank and Gaza. Worshipers chanted back: "With our soul, with our heart, we defend you, our prophet." Noisy demonstrations were later staged in Ramallah and other Palestinian towns. Muslims generally regard any depiction of the prophet as blasphemy.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized European newspapers for republishing cartoons that originally appeared only in one newspaper in Denmark.

"There is freedom of speech, we all respect that," Straw told a news conference during a visit with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol. "But there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary. It has been insensitive. It has been disrespectful, and it has been wrong."

The United States expressed a similar view. "We . . . respect freedom of the press and expression, but it must be coupled with press responsibility," said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper. "Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac urged calm.

But pressure in the Muslim world continued. Pakistan's parliament voted to denounce the publication of the cartoons. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called for the firing of newspaper editors who approved publication of the cartoons.

In the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, as many as 100 members of the radical Islamic Defenders Front stormed into the office tower housing the Danish Embassy on Friday morning, demanding an apology. Protesters pelted the building with rotten eggs and tomatoes, damaged furniture in the lobby and pulled down a pair of Danish flags, burning one and shredding the other.

They withdrew when the Danish ambassador agreed to meet several representatives of the front, which is known in Indonesia for raiding establishments that serve alcohol. A spokesman for the front said the Danish Embassy had apologized for the cartoon's publication.

After Friday prayers, another Muslim coalition, the Islamic Community Forum, issued a statement at one of Jakarta's most prominent mosques demanding the death penalty for the cartoonists who drew the caricatures and others involved in their publication.

In Malaysia, about 60 members of the main opposition party, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, rallied Friday outside the Danish Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, calling for the destruction of enemies and demanding an apology for the publication of the cartoons. The protest ended without violence.

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