The United Nations and the world’s largest Islamic grouping appealed for calm after more clashes linked to global protests over Danish cartoons of Prophet Mohammad.
Senior Afghan officials said al-Qaida and the Taliban could be exploiting anger over the cartoons to incite violence, which spread to at least six cities in Afghanistan yesterday.
Demonstrations rumbled on around the Muslim world and the political repercussions deepened, with Iran suspending all trade and economic ties with Denmark, where the drawings were first published in September.
Denmark’s prime minister called the protests a global crisis and appealed for calm.
In a new turn, a prominent Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, invited artists to enter a Holocaust cartoon competition, saying it wanted to see if freedom of expression – the banner under which many Western publications reprinted the prophet drawings – also applied to Holocaust images.
The Mohammad drawings – including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb – have touched a raw nerve. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet for fear they could lead to idolatry.
Media outlets say they have reprinted them sometimes to illustrate stories about the controversy but also, in some cases, to support the principle of free speech.
Violence escalated sharply in Afghanistan this week. Protests, sometimes involving armed men, have been directed at a raft of foreign and Afghan government targets – fuelling suspicions that there was more to the unrest than offence to 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 being here.”
The leader of the world’s largest Muslim group – the Organisation of Islamic Conference – joined UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and the European Union’s foreign policy chief in condemning the violence and appealing for calm.
“Aggression against life and property can only damage the image of a peaceful Islam,” said a statement by Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the OIC, Annan and the EU’s Javier Solana.
Yesterday, protesters armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked the Nato base in Afghanistan’s remote northern city of Maymana, which is manned by peacekeepers from Norway, Finland, Latvia and Sweden, local officials said.
Three protesters were shot dead by Afghan and Norwegian forces and 22 others were wounded, said Sayed Aslam Ziaratia, the provincial deputy police chief.
Nato said it had fired live ammunition into the air as a warning.
Provincial governor Mohammed Latif said he suspected al-Qaida may have had a hand in the riot. He said two men from eastern Afghanistan were arrested during the protest and were being interrogated to see whether they were militants.
“The violence today looked like a massive uprising. It was very unusual,” Latif said.
The fighting came one day after four people died and 19 were injured Monday in demonstrations in Afghanistan.
Muslim crowds have attacked Danish diplomatic buildings in various countries and yesterday Danes were advised to leave Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
In Copenhagen, Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appealed for calm, but showed no sign of diverting from his government’s stance that it could not apologise for actions taken by an independent newspaper, as demanded by governments in several Muslim nations.