Country sees its worst violence so far over prophet caricatures
LAHORE, Pakistan - Thousands of protesters rampaged through two Pakistani cities Tuesday, storming into a diplomatic district and setting fire to Western businesses and a provincial assembly building in the country’s worst wave of violence against the Prophet Mohammad cartoons, officials said. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.
Security forces fired into the air as they struggled to contain the unrest in the eastern city of Lahore, where protesters burned down four buildings housing a hotel, two banks, a KFC restaurant and the office of a Norwegian cell phone company.
On Monday, police fired tear gas and wielded batons to stop about 7,000 students from marching on the governor’s residence in northwestern Pakistan.
The students had marched to several universities in Peshawar and hurled stones at a Christian school, breaking windows and causing other damage. They also threw stones at shops in the main business district, chanting “Down with America” and “Down with Denmark.”
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told journalists Monday that newspapers that have printed the caricatures were “being totally oblivious to the consequences for the world, for world peace and harmony.”
“The most moderate Muslim will go to the street and talk against it because this hurts the sentiments of every Muslim,” he said. “Whether an extremist or a moderate or an ultramoderate, we will condemn it.”
Several large rallies have been held across Pakistan against the cartoons, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September.
The cartoons have been reprinted in numerous publications in Europe and elsewhere in what publishers say is a show of solidarity for freedom of expression, setting off protests from Canada to Indonesia. Some demonstrations have been violent, and the tension has noticeably increased anti-Western dialogue in the Muslim world.
In the West Bank, hundreds of Palestinian children stomped on a Danish flag and shouted anti-Danish slogans Monday to protest the caricatures. The demonstration in Hebron was organized by a school affiliated with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which is poised to lead the next Palestinian government.
Palestinians have held mass protests against the drawings in recent weeks, threatened to kidnap Europeans in Gaza and chased foreign observers out of Hebron.
One of Iran’s largest newspapers opened a contest Monday seeking caricatures of the Holocaust. Hamshahri newspaper said it wanted to test whether the West extends its principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide as it did to the cartoons of Islam’s prophet.
“We don’t intend retaliation over the drawings of the prophet. We just want to show that freedom is restricted in the West,” said Davood Kazemi, executive manager of the contest and cartoon editor at the paper.
The Iranian government on Sunday rejected an accusation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it has fanned violent protests over the caricatures and demanded an apology, saying that could reduce growing tension.
Rice, meanwhile, said Iran and Syria should be urging their citizens to remain calm — not encouraging violence like the attacks on Western diplomatic missions in Iran, Syria and Lebanon.
Nearly a dozen people were killed in protests in Afghanistan.
“If people continue to incite it, it could spin out of control,” she said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
Countries exploit tensions
The drawings — including one that depicts the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb — have offended many Muslims. Islamic tradition widely holds that representations of the prophet are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
But some suggest the genuine anger displayed by crowds across the Muslim world has been exploited or intensified by some Muslim countries to settle scores with Western powers.
Rice said Wednesday that “Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said an apology from Rice and Denmark could help. “What happened was a natural reaction,” Asefi said, adding that “an apology could alleviate the tension.”
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the drawings as “insensitive and rather offensive,” but he called for dialogue.
“Right now there’s megaphone diplomacy,” Annan told Denmark’s national broadcaster DR. “And I think we should turn off the megaphones and begin to talk quietly to each other.”
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