Da The Daily Star del 06/02/2006
Originale su http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_ID=1&article_ID=21...

Violence plagues protest against cartoons of Prophet Mohammad

Riots leave Danish Consulate building in flames, churches vandalized

di Rym Ghazal

BEIRUT: What was meant to be a peaceful protest by thousands of Muslims in Beirut Sunday against the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad turned into a vicious riot, which left at least one person dead and 30 wounded. The Danish Consulate was torched, churches were vandalized and a number of properties and vehicles were damaged.

Muslims carrying green and black Islamic flags and wearing headbands bearing the slogan "Prophet's soldiers" joined in the global Muslim march against the recent reprinting by European newspapers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by swarming the streets in front and around the 10-storey building housing the Danish Consulate in Beirut.

"Yes to freedom of speech but not to ridiculing our Prophet!" shouted thousands of protestors that came from across Lebanon, with the sheikhs and heads of Sunni associations calling for a "peaceful rally in the name of the Prophet."

Some 2,000 army troops and riot police were deployed to the area to maintain security, but the protest quickly turned violent when scattered groups of rioters began to throw rocks at the Danish Consulate despite sheikhs' calls for order and broke the security barrier in front of the mission, prompting troops to fire tear gas and water cannons from fire trucks to try to disperse them.

"This is a peaceful march, removed from hate and violence!" said Sheikh Belal Manoush over the loud speaker, who tried to stop a youth from vandalizing the nearby St. Maroun Church, one of the city's main Maronite Catholic churches.

Belal along with other Muslim clerics were seen trying to stop the protesters from causing damage in Achrafieh, a Christian area near Beirut's commercial district, as the situation escalated and threatened to take on a sectarian spin.

"Do not harm the holy church, the anger is against Denmark and not Christians," said Belal, whose voice got buried with the onset of shots fired by the Lebanese troops into the air in an attempt to stop the assault on the consulate.

Medics reported that around 30 people were injured and treated for inhaling tear gas and others sustained fractures, including policemen.

The attacks spiraled out of control, spreading to the Lebanese Foreign Ministry - despite the employees' protests that it had nothing to do with the cartoons - private property and parked cars, with fire being set to the Danish Consulate building, which also housed the Austrian Embassy and Slovak Consulate.

Lebanese religious figures and politicians severely condemned the riots, saying this was no longer an issue of protesting against the cartoons but vandalism, sectarian disrespect and a distortion of Islam.

All Lebanese politicians stressed there was outside interference from parties deliberately instigating strife and violence.

"The Danish government urges all leaders, political and religious, in the relevant countries to call on their populations to remain calm and refrain from violence," Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said after the latest attacks, but to no avail.

Security sources said there was one dead body found in the nearby Allied Bank, of 22-year-old Khodr Mohammad al-Hajj.

Media reports circulated that he was among those who set the consulate building on fire, got encircled by flames and died after jumping from the third floor.

Three fire trucks were prevented from putting out the flames by protesters who set them ablaze, climbing over the vehicles and chanting "God is Greatest" while others gathering outside the burning building chanted "There is no God but

God and Mohammad is the messenger of God!" as thick black smoke billowed into the sky.

Amid the violence, children were seen throwing oranges and fruit at the walls of buildings near the burning consulate, with their parents shouting "We are ready to sacrifice our children for you, O Prophet Mohammad."

The Internal Security Forces Directorate General released an official statement in which it said more than half of those arrested were not of Lebanese origin. A total of 174 people were arrested; 76 Syrians; 38 Lebanese; 35 Palestinians and 25 stateless bedouins.

Security sources also said that a total of 100 cars were damaged, including two Civil Defense vehicles, a police car and an army jeep, along with a total of 40 shops vandalized.

The security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Danish Consulate and Embassy staff had evacuated the building along with their belongings and documents two days ago, in anticipation of protests.

The violent protest comes a day after mobs of protesters in neighboring Syria set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in the most violent of intense protests in days by Muslims across Europe and Asia.

Syrian protesters also damaged the Swedish Embassy and tried to storm the French mission but were held off by riot police.

Denmark became the focus for Muslim rage as images Muslims find offensive, including one of the Prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily in what has become a face-off between press freedom and religious respect.

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