Sun, Feb 19, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Libya blames Italy after riot leaves 10 dead

CARTOON FALL-OUT An Italian minister who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with Mohammed images was responsible for sparking the violence, Tripoli said


Libya yesterday blamed Italy for a deadly riot that left 10 people dead and Rome's consulate in the city of Benghazi ablaze, the deadliest protest yet against the Prophet Mohammed cartoons.

Police threw teargas grenades and opened fire with live ammunition on the 1,000 demonstrators, some of whom had overwhelmed security forces to storm the consulate building and set it ablaze.

Television pictures showed angry demonstrators setting fire to the Italian flag and throwing stones while thick clouds of black smoke billowed into the sky from the consulate building in the eastern coastal city.

The Qaddafi Foundation, headed by the reform-minded son of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi Seif el-Islam, issued a statement blaming the riot on the "provocative and outrageous" actions of a controversial Italian minister.

Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli aroused uproar by vowing to sport T-shirts displaying the cartoons of Mohammed that were first published by a Danish newspaper in September.

The foundation called on Rome to "take urgent measures against this hateful and racist minister," otherwise it would see "its interests and relations with Libya pass into a delicate and decisive re-evaluation."

It said Calderoli's behavior had caused the riots "due to the provocation, the outrage, and offense to what is sacred."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi urged Calderoli, who has also referred to Muslim immigrants in Italy as "Ali Babas," to resign after his latest antics.

Calderoli said later in the day that he had offered his resignation to Premier Silvio Berlusconi to stop "the shameful exploitation which in these hours has been directed against me," ANSA reported.

The first secretary of the Italian embassy in Tripoli, Dominico Bellatoni, said that at least 10 demonstrators had been killed according to police reports.

He added: "No Italian was hurt when a thousand demonstrators attacked the consular building after Friday prayers and set the first floor on fire."

Another Italian diplomat, who asked not to be named, said: "The consulate was closed to the public and only six staff members were inside, but none ... was injured."

Residents said that calm had returned to Benghazi by yesterday morning, with the burned-out wrecks of cars and stones on the ground the main evidence of the tumult the previous day.

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