Thousands of Muslims rampaged in Beirut yesterday, setting fire to the Danish consulate, burning Danish flags and lobbing stones at a Maronite church to show their anger over caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Troops fired shots into the air, and tear gas and water cannons at the crowds to try pushing the protesters back. Security officials said at least 18 people were injured, and witnesses said at least 10 people were taken away by ambulance.
The rioting mirrored a violent melee a day earlier outside the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus in neighboring Syria, where demonstrators charged security barriers and sent the buildings up in flames.
Those attacks earned widespread condemnation from European nations and from the US, which accused the Syrian government of backing the protests. Yesterday, defense ministers meeting in Germany urged calm and respect -- both for religion and freedom of the press.
Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani of Lebanon denounced the violence and appealed for calm, accusing infiltrators of sowing the dissent to "harm the stability of Lebanon."
"Those who are committing these acts have nothing to do with Islam or with Lebanon," Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said. "This is absolutely not the way we express our opinions."
But thousands -- incensed by caricatures of Mohammed widely published in European newspapers, including one of the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a lit bomb -- continued to protest across the Muslim world.
In the Afghan city of Mihtarlam, some 3,000 demonstrators burned a Danish flag and demanded that the editors at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten -- the first to publish the cartoons in September -- be prosecuted for blasphemy, Governor Sher Mohammed Safi said.
Some 1,000 people tried to march to the offices of the UN and other aid groups in Fayzabad. Police fired shots into the air to disperse them, officials said. No one was hurt.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, students in uniform -- aged 13 and even younger -- carried protest posters and shouted: "No to offending our prophet."
In Iraq, about 1,000 Sunni Muslims demonstrated outside a mosque in the insurgent hotbed city of Ramadi.
"Protect the Prophet, God is Great," the protesters shouted.
A giant banner read: "Iraq must end political, diplomatic, cultural and economic relations with the European countries that supported the Danish insult against Prophet Mohammed and all Muslims."
Another 1,000 supporters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr rallied in Amarah, denouncing Denmark, Israel and the US and demanding that Danish and Norwegian diplomats be expelled.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he personally disapproves of the caricatures and any attacks on religion -- but has insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country's independent press.
Media in several European nations and New Zealand recently have reprinted the controversial cartoons, calling it an expression of freedom of the press.
But many Muslims said the cartoons lampooning Muhammad were degrading -- particularly to adherents of a religion that forbids the publication of images of Mohammed for fear they could lead to idolatry.
In Beirut, protesters came by the busloads to rally outside the Danish consulate, where some 2,000 troops and riot police were deployed for protection. But the protest degenerated into violence when a group of extremists tried to break through the security barrier.
"There is no god but God, and Mohammed is the messenger of God!" the protesters said.
Demonstrators attacked police with stones and torched fire engines, witnesses said. Black smoke billowed from the area.
A security official said staff had been evacuated two days ago. The Danish Foreign Ministry urged Danes to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.
"It is a critical situation and it is very serious," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said on Danish public radio yesterday.
The trouble threatened to rile sectarian tensions when protesters began stoning St. Maroun Church, one of the city's main Maronite Catholic churches, and property in Ashrafieh, a Christian area. Sectarian tension is a sensitive issue in Lebanon, where Muslims and Christians fought a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.
Austria, which holds the rotating EU presidency, condemned the attacks on European embassies: "Such acts can by no means be legitimized and are utterly unacceptable."
Meanwhile, editors of two Jordanian tabloid weeklies faced punishment on Saturday for reprinting Danish cartoons deemed blasphemous to Mohammed.
The state prosecutor ordered detention for questioning of Jihad Momani, editor of Shihan weekly, and Hashem Khaledi, editor of al-Mehwar weekly, according to government spokesman Nasser Judeh.
Iran said yesterday that it had recalled its ambassador to Denmark over the publication of the cartoons.
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