Islamic clerics call for an end to Afghan riots

Afghanistan’s top Islamic organisation today called for an end to three days of deadly rioting over drawings of the Prophet Mohammed, as police shot four protesters dead to stop hundreds from marching on a US military base.

“Islam says it’s all right to demonstrate but not to resort to violence. This must stop,” said senior cleric Mohammed Usman. “We condemn the cartoons but this does not justify violence. These rioters are defaming the name of Islam.”

Other members of Afghanistan’s Ulama Council went on radio and TV stations calling for an end to the violence.

Beside the four deaths in the riot in southern Afghanistan’s Qalat city, 11 protesters were shot and wounded, and eight police and one Afghan soldier were hurt by flying rocks, said Ghulam Nabi Malakhail, the provincial police chief.

He said police initially fired in the air, but they then were forced to fire on the crowd, which had gathered to protest against cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed originally published in a Danish newspaper.

The rioters ran away, but used other roads to get to the outer wall of the US base, where they burned three fuel tankers that were waiting to deliver petrol to the base, said Malakhail. He said US troops fired warning shots into the air.

US military spokesman, Lt. Mike Cody, said he had no details on the matter.

Eleven people have been killed as thousands have taken to the streets in about a dozen Afghan cities and towns in the past week against the cartoons, which have been reprinted in various European newspapers. One caricature depicts the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet, favourable or otherwise.

Many of the protests have involved armed men and have been directed at foreign and Afghan government targets – fuelling suspicions there’s more behind the unrest than religious sensitivities.

“This is something that really upset Afghans,” said Joanna Nathan, senior Afghanistan analyst at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research institute. “But it is also being used to agitate and motivate the crowds by those against the government and foreign forces” in Afghanistan.

Some senior Afghan officials have said they believe al Qaida and the Taliban could be behind much of the bloodshed.

There were several other small protests across Afghanistan today, including one in Kabul. Hundreds of university students, including women, marched peacefully through the capital, chanting “Death to the Danish! Death to Americans!”

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