Cartoon crisis deepens as Muslim fury spreads

Tehran, Iran - A wave of Muslim fury spread across the Middle East and Asia over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad on Tuesday as leaders struggled to contain a deepening diplomatic crisis between Europe and the Muslim world.

In Iran, which is locked in a nuclear stand-off with the West and which has cut trade ties with Denmark where the satirical images were first published, a crowd pelted the Danish embassy in Tehran with petrol bombs and stones for a second day.

After rioters set Danish missions ablaze in Syria and Lebanon at the weekend, the EU presidency issued a strongly worded warning to 19 countries across the Middle East that they are obliged to protect EU missions.

Denmark's Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller called his Iranian counterpart "and demanded in clear terms that Iran does all it can to protect the embassy and Danish lives", a spokesman said, as the Tehran mission was once again attacked.

In recent days, peaceful protests over the cartoons have escalated into outrage and bloodshed.

Depicting the Prophet is prohibited by Islam but moderate Muslims, while condemning the cartoons, have expressed fears radicals are hijacking the affair which has developed into a clash over press freedom and religious respect.

Another person was killed on Tuesday when Afghan police opened fire on a crowd, enraged by the cartoons, which tried to storm a NATO peacekeeping base housing Norwegian troops, while across the border in Pakistan, 10,000 people rallied.

At least six people have now been killed in protests in Somalia, Lebanon and Afghanistan. Volatile rallies have swept across Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Militants in Iraq have called for the seizure and killing of Danes and the boycott of Danish goods. In London, there were placards demanding the beheading of those who insulted Islam.

Further protests erupted on Tuesday in Egypt, Yemen, Djibouti, Gaza and Azerbaijan, while Croatia and Fiji became the latest countries where a newspaper printed the cartoons, one of which depicts the Prophet wearing a turban resembling a fizzing bomb.

The cartoons have appeared in papers in Australia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Fiji, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, United States, Ukraine and Yemen.


Iran, which has withdrawn its ambassador from Denmark and which has moved to the front-line of the confrontation, said the cartoons had "launched an anti-Islamic and Islamophobic current which will be answered".

Moderate Muslim groups have issued statements condemning violent protests and calling for calm in order to distance themselves from radicals who they say have an agenda.

In an editorial, Saudi Arabia's Okaz urged restraint:

"The use of violence, spreading chaos and destroying facilities ... only distorts Islam's image, especially after our enemies have tried to label us with so many accusations."

Along with other European newspapers, Germany's top-selling Bild newspaper on Tuesday examined the background to the crisis under the headline "Should we fear Islam?".

In a commentary, Bild writer Rafael Seligmann said Islam was a tolerant religion and the crisis was being exploited by extremists in the Middle East. "They are abusing Islam to make it an instrument of their hate," he wrote.

With embassies reviewing security in Muslim countries, Indonesia joined a list of nations Denmark considers unsafe.

Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily has apologised for the cartoons published last September but the Danish government has refused to apologise saying it is the paper's responsibility.

Heeding security advice, thousands of Danes cancelled travel plans to the Middle East and Indonesia and one major Danish company, dairy firm Arla, sent some workers home as a result of a Middle East boycott of Danish goods.

In Turkey, a high school student arrested on suspicion of killing a Catholic priest told police he was influenced by seeing the cartoons. The priest was shot dead while praying.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: "I urge all who have authority or influence in different communities ... to engage in dialogue and build a true alliance of civilisations, founded on mutual respect."

With diplomatic efforts accelerating, German junior foreign minister Gernot Erler urged: "those who can help de-escalate the situation to come together and to avoid any steps that could further inflame this conflict, which can come dangerously close to a sort of clash of cultures."