Heads roll after Libya's cartoon riots

Libya has suspended its security minister and other officials, a day after at least 10 people were killed during a demonstration at the Italian consulate in the north eastern city of Benghazi.

    Calderoli was defiant till the last, but gave in under pressure

    In Rome, meanwhile, Roberto Calderoli, the Italian reform minister, has resigned, bowing to pressure from government colleagues after Libya blamed his anti-Islamic insults for igniting the demonstration, the most deadly yet of a continuing international wave of protests against cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.


    A statement from the general secretariat of Libya's parliament on Saturday read: "Security Minister Nasr Mabrouk has been suspended from his duties and taken before an investigating magistrate." 


    The statement added that a national day of mourning would be observed on Sunday to honour "our martyrs".


    Calderoli, of the xenophobic Northern League party, had appeared on a prime time news programme on Thursday wearing a T-shirt printed with the provocative cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper last year and which have recently been widely re-published in Europe.


    "Security Minister Nasr Mabrouk has been suspended from his duties and taken before an investigating magistrate"

    A Libyan government statement

    The Libyan deaths took place after about 1000 people gathered to protest outside the Roman consulate.


    Calderoli, who has frequently attacked Islam in recent weeks and once called Muslim immigrants in Italy "Ali Babas", seemed defiant to the last, showing no signs of contrition in a series of newspaper interviews published on Saturday.


    "I can be sorry for the victims, but what happened in Libya has nothing to do with my T-shirt. The question is different. What's at stake is Western civilisation," the daily La Repubblica quoted him as saying.


    Berlusconi-al-Qadhafi talk


    The al-Qadhafi foundation, headed by the reform-minded son of Muammar al-Qadhafi, the Libyan leader, issued a statement blaming the riot on Calderoli's "provocative and outrageous" actions.


    Berlusconi phoned al-Qadhafi to
    ease tensions

    Meanwhile, in a telephone conversation Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, and the Libyan leader agreed that the anti-Italian violence should have no "negative repercussions" for bilateral relations, Berlusconi's office said.


    Calderoli's brazen stand embarrassed Italy's centre-right government, which is campaigning for April general elections. On Saturday, several ministers, as well as leaders of the centre-left opposition, urged Calderoli to step down.


    The two leaders had a "long and amicable" discussion focusing on Friday's violence in Benghazi.


    Minister visits mosque


    Gianfranco Fini, the Italian foreign minister, quickly scheduled a visit to Rome's main mosque for later Saturday, saying he wanted "to reaffirm that we respect every religion, and we expect identical respect," according to the ANSA and Apcom news agencies.


    Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Italian president and a highly respected voice in the country, issued a statement saying that in Italy, "there is a clear, undisputed policy that reflects the dominant feeling of Italians: the respect of religious creeds and of the faiths of all peoples.


    "Above all, those who have a responsibility in government have to show responsible behaviour," Ciampi said, adding that he was "deeply saddened" by the clashes at Benghazi.


    Calderoli defies PM


    In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Calderoli said he had declined a previous plea to resign from Berlusconi last week, after he threatened to wear the T-shirt. "I'm certainly not changing my mind," he told the paper.


    Under the Italian constitution, the premier does not have the power to sack ministers.


    Ten  people died in the riots
    outside the Italian consulate

    In comments reported by another newspaper, Corriere della Sera, Calderoli said he would resign only if Umberto Bossi, the Northern League leader, asked him to do so, and "after receiving a signal from the Islamic world that such a gesture would be useful".


    Calderoli travelled to Bossi's house in northern Italy on Saturday to meet him and Fini.


    Fini, who had earlier appealed to Calderoli to avoid provoking Muslims, blamed his fellow minister for the violence in Libya.


    "It was predictable that Calderoli's display would trigger reactions in the Arab world," Fini told La Repubblica.


    The front pages of Italian papers were dominated by the story on Saturday.  

    SOURCE: Agencies


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