Syrians burn embassies in cartoon row

Thousands of Syrians protesting over offensive caricatures of Islam's prophet have been blocked from approaching the French embassy after torching the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus.

    The Danish embassy in Damascus was set alight

    Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse Saturday's demonstrators who crowded outside the Norwegian embassy after earlier setting fire to the Danish embassy six kilometres away.


    Protesters broke through heavy police barriers and set fire to the four-storey building.


    A Norwegian Foreign Ministry spokesman said there was nobody in the embassy at the time.


    They also threw stones and smashed the windows of police cars, witnesses said.


    The protesters then moved towards the French embassy, about nine kilometres away. Hundreds of Syrian policemen and soldiers struggled to close all roads to the embassy.


    Hundreds more protesters broke through the barriers but were chased away by water cannons from fire engines before they got close to the building.


    "It was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy"

    Per Stig Moeller,
    Danish foreign minister


    Norway and Denmark advised their citizens to leave Syria as soon as possible.


    The Danish embassy shares the building with the Swedish and Chilean embassies.


    Per Stig Moeller, the Danish foreign minister, said: "It's horrible and totally unacceptable."


    Moeller said he telephoned his Syrian counterpart, Farouk al-Sharaa, "to tell him it was totally unacceptable that Syrian authorities have not been able to protect the embassy".


    He said al-Sharaa responded saying he regretted the incident.


    Laila Freivalds, Sweden's foreign minister, said she has called in the Syrian ambassador in Stockholm for a meeting on Saturday night so Sweden can issue a formal protest.


    Freivalds said: "I will deliver the protest and say that this has escalated too far. We expect the kind of protection we have a right to demand."


    Palestinian outrage

    Palestinian youths protested
    outside the EU office in Gaza


    Palestinian youths tried to break into the European Union office in Gaza in protest over European newspapers printing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad.


    The protesters threw stones at the EU office, burnt tyres outside and clashed with security forces when they tried to enter the compound. The police arrested two youths.

    The youths took down the EU flag from the building and replaced it with the Palestinian flag.


    They chanted slogans against Denmark and pledged to give their "blood to redeem the Prophet".


    Global protest


    There were fresh demonstrations in several cities including Ankara and London. About 500 students of Islamic seminaries protested in Lahore, Pakistan, on Saturday, chanting anti-Danish slogans.


    The leaders of Indonesia and Malaysia also added their voices to the chorus of condemnation of the cartoons.


    "Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable"

    Kurtis Cooper,
    Spokesman for US State Department

    Washington also stepped into the furore.


    Kurtis Cooper, the spokesman for the State Department, said: "These cartoons are indeed offensive to the belief of Muslims. We 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."


    Meanwhile, two New Zealand newspapers reprinted the cartoons in their Saturday editions saying the decision was based on freedom of press.


    The sketches first appeared last September in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten and have since been reprinted in papers in France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland and Hungary.


    For Muslims, depicting the Prophet Muhammad is forbidden and European leaders have called for restraint, expressing concern about the firestorm that has erupted over the last several days.


    Call for restraint


    Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Malaysia's prime minister, called on their countries' Muslims to exercise restraint.


    Gul called for respect between
    Muslims and non-Muslims

    Abdullah Gul
    , Turkey's foreign minister, repeated Ankara's call for calm and for mutual respect between Muslims and non-Muslims.


    Separately, protesters held another demonstration outside the Danish embassy in Ankara, laying a black wreath and vowing to boycott Danish products.


    The US response contrasted with European governments, which tended to acknowledge tension between free speech and respect for religion but have generally accepted papers' rights to print the cartoons.


    In an interview with La Repubblica daily, Franco Frattini, the European justice commissioner, said the EU did not have the power or duty to apologise for the offence caused.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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