Indonesian radicals storm embassy

BLASPHEMY?:Protesters targeted the Danish embassy in an outraged response to the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in a newspaper in Denmark

AP , JAKARTA

Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 5

More than 150 hardline Muslims stormed into a building housing the Danish Embassy yesterday to protest the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, then tore down and burned the country's white and red flag.

The rowdy protest was one of the first in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, against the twelve cartoons that first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. They were reprinted in several other European newspapers this week in a gesture of press freedom.

"We are not terrorists, we are not anarchists, but we are against those people who blaspheme Islam," one of the protesters shouted outside the building, which also houses several other foreign missions.

The demonstrators, who wore white Arabic-style robes, pelted the building with eggs before pushing their way past security guards into the building's plush lobby.

Shouting "God is Great," they tried to push into elevators to reach the mission on the building's 25th floor, but were told to stop by protest leaders.

Before the protesters left the building in the heart of the city's business district, they tore the embassy's flag down and set it on fire on the pavement.

The demonstrators also stopped outside an Indonesian newspaper which briefly ran one of the cartoons on its Web site on Thursday to illustrate its story on the uproar generated by them elsewhere in the Muslim world.

Editors of Rakyat Merdeka met some of the protesters. In a posting on the site yesterday, the paper said it told them that the picture was meant to give context to the story -- something it said the demonstrators understood. It also published an apology to anyone who was offended by the picture.

Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet, favorable or otherwise, to prevent idolatry. The drawings have prompted boycotts of Danish goods, bomb threats and demonstrations against Danish facilities in Muslim nations.

The government of Indonesia reiterated earlier criticism of the paper's decision to publish.

"This is about insensitivity and a trend toward Islamaphobia," foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said.

"As a democratic country we are very aware of press freedom, but we also believe it should not be used to slander or defame sacred religious symbols," he added.

Indonesia has 220 million people, most of them moderate Muslims.

Yesterday's protest created little fanfare in a country where much larger demonstrations occur on a daily basis. Nearby office workers and residents mostly ignored the protest or stopped only briefly.

The protesters in Jakarta were members of the Islamic Defenders Front, which campaigns for Islamic law and often takes to the street against perceived violators of Islamic rules at home or abroad.

Three protesters said they were received by the Danish ambassador, and claimed he told them he planned to apologize to Indonesian Muslims for causing offense.

"If he doesn't, then we will demand the government kick him out," protest organizer Ali Reza said.