Thousands of Muslims rioted in Beirut today, setting fire to the Danish Embassy, burning Danish flags and lobbing stones at a Maronite church to show their anger over caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.
Troops fired shots into the air, and tear gas and water cannons at the crowds to try pushing the protesters back. Security officials said at least 18 people were injured, and witnesses said at least 10 people were taken away by ambulance.
The rioting mirrored a violent melee a day earlier outside the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus in neighbouring Syria, where demonstrators charged security barriers and sent the buildings up in flames.
Those attacks earned widespread condemnation from European nations and from the US, which accused the Syrian government of backing the protests. On Sunday, defence ministers meeting in Germany urged calm and respect – both for religion and freedom of the press.
Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani denounced the violence and appealed for calm, accusing infiltrators of sowing the dissent to “harm the stability of Lebanon".
“Those who are committing these acts have nothing to do with Islam or with Lebanon,” said Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. “This is absolutely not the way we express our opinions.”
But thousands – incensed by caricatures of Muhammad widely published in European newspapers, including one of the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a lit bomb – continued to protest across the Muslim world.
In the Afghan city of Mihtarlam, some 3,000 demonstrators burned a Danish flag and demanded that the editors at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten – the first to publish the cartoons in September – be prosecuted for blasphemy, said governor Sher Mohammed Safi.
Some 1,000 people tried to march to the offices of the United Nations and other aid groups in Fayzabad. Police fired shots into the air to disperse them, officials said. No one was hurt.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, students in uniform – age 13 and even younger – carried protest posters and shouted: “No to offending our prophet.”
In Iraq, about 1,000 Sunni Muslims demonstrated outside a mosque in the insurgent hotbed city of Ramadi.
“Protect the Prophet, God is Great,” the protesters shouted. A giant banner read: “Iraq must end political, diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with the European countries that supported the Danish insult against Prophet Muhammad and all Muslims.”
Another 1,000 supporters of controversial Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr rallied in Amarah, denouncing Denmark, Israel and the US and demanding that Danish and Norwegian diplomats be expelled.
Denmark’s Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he personally disapproves of the caricatures and any attacks on religion – but has insisted he cannot apologise on behalf of his country’s independent press.
Media in several European nations and New Zealand recently have reprinted the controversial cartoons, calling it an expression of freedom of the press.
But many Muslims said the cartoons lampooning Muhammad were degrading - particularly to adherents of a religion that forbids the publication of images of Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.