Protests Over Muhammad Caricatures Continue; Four Killed

Afghan troops opened fire on demonstrators Monday, leaving at least four people dead, while Iranian police used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters hurling stones and firebombs at the Danish Embassy in Tehran as anger mounted over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Police had encircled the walled brick villa housing the Danish mission in the Iranian capital, but the crowd of about 400 protesters ignored orders to break up, only running into a nearby park after tear gas was fired. Earlier in the day, 200 student demonstrators threw stones at the Austrian Embassy, breaking some windows and starting small fires.

The worst of the violence in Afghanistan was outside Bagram, the main U.S. base, with Afghan police firing on some 2,000 protesters as they tried to break into the heavily guarded facility, said Kabir Ahmed, the local government chief.

Two demonstrators were killed and 13 people, including eight police, were injured, he said. No U.S. troops were involved in the clashes, the military said.

Afghan police also fired on protesters in the central city of Mihtarlam after a man in the crowd shot at them and others threw stones and knives, Interior Ministry spokesman Dad Mohammed Rasa said. Two protesters were killed, and three other people were wounded, including two police, officials said. The demonstrators burned tires and threw stones at government offices.

The unrest spread to East Africa as police in Somalia fired in the air to disperse stone-throwing protesters, triggering a stampede in which a teenager was killed and raising to six the number of deaths in protests related to the publication of the series of cartoons satirizing Islam's most revered figure.

At least nine people were injured in the melee outside the Danish Embassy in Iran, which lasted about an hour.

Two trees inside the compound — which was believed to have been evacuated earlier — were set on fire by the firebombs. The embassy gate was burned as was a police booth along the wall protecting the building. The mob, which included about 100 women, burned a Danish flag and chanted "God is great," but they failed to breach the police cordon.

Also Monday, 200 members of Iran's parliament issued a statement warning that those who published the cartoons should remember the case of Salman Rushdie — the British author against whom the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a death warrant for his novel "The Satanic Verses."

Lebanon, meanwhile, apologized to Denmark a day after thousands of rampaging Muslim demonstrators set fire to the building housing the Danish mission in Beirut to protest the caricatures. At least one person died, 30 were injured and about 200 people were detained in Sunday's violence, including Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese, officials said.

The Beirut violence came a day after violent protests in neighboring Syria, including the burning of the Danish and Norwegian missions. The United States accused the Syrian government of backing the protests in Lebanon and Syria, an accusation also made by anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians.

Washington condemned the violence and urged governments to take steps to cool tensions over the 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and recently reprinted in European and other media.

The drawings — including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse — have touched a raw nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.

"We understand fully why people, why Muslims, find the cartoons offensive," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. "Those who disagree with the views that were expressed, certainly have the right to condemn them but they should be peaceful."

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as he entered the opening session a three-day U.N. Environment Program in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, implied publication of the caricatures had been a matter of poor judgment, but added: "In don't think that it justifies the attacks on innocents. I would appeal to all concerned, all people of authority and influence, to engage in dialogue and bring this to an end."

The European Union issued stern reminders to 18 Muslim countries that they are obliged under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to protect foreign embassies, and Austria said it had expressed concern for the safety of diplomatic missions to the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

The prime ministers of Spain and Turkey issued a Christian-Muslim appeal for calm, saying "we shall all be the losers if we fail to immediately defuse this situation."

But Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said media freedoms cannot be limitless and that hostility against Muslims was replacing anti-Semitism in the West.

The protesters in Afghanistan threw stones at the U.S. base and smashed a guard post. Some of those in the crowd then shot at the base with assault rifles, prompting the police to return fire, Ahmed said.

U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Mike Cody, said American troops did not fire on the crowd and security was left to the Afghan police.

About 200 protesters also tried to break down the gate of a the Danish government's diplomatic mission office in the capital, Kabul, but failed, said police who were guarding the building.

The protesters then threw stones at the mission and beat some officers guarding it, as well as some guards at a nearby house used by Belgian diplomats.

Police wielding batons and rifle butts dispersed demonstrators walking toward the presidential palace. An Associated Press reporter saw at least three protesters bleeding from injuries, and at least seven more who were arrested and driven away in a police vehicle.

"Long live Islam! We are Muslims! We don't let anyone insult our prophet!" chanted the demonstrators, many of whom appeared to be teenagers. They also chanted, "Down with America!" and slogans against the Afghan and U.S. presidents.

Some protesters moved toward the main American base in city and threw stones that smashed windows of a guard house. Police watched but did not intervene.

U.S. soldiers later arrested two photographers outside the base and checked the memory discs of an AP photographer, but did not arrest him. Cody said he had no details about the matter.

Thousands of other Afghans demonstrated peacefully in at least five other cities.

Several thousand Iraqis rallied in the southern city of Kut, burning Danish, German and Israeli flags, as well as an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to demand diplomatic and economic ties be severed with countries in which the caricatures were published.

Protesters called for the death of anyone who insults Muhammad and demanded withdrawal of 530-member Danish military contingent operating under British control.

Danish Capt. Philip Ulrichsen said Danish troops were shot at and targeted by stone-throwing youths on Sunday and a roadside bomb was defused, but no soldiers were wounded.

In Somalia, hundreds of protesters threw stones at police and aid workers after a peaceful rally in the northern port city of Bossaso, sparking the stampede in which a teenage boy was killed, said businessman Mohamed Ahmed, a witness. Officials could not be reached for comment.

Melees also broke out during protests in New Delhi and Gaza City, while several thousand students massed peacefully in Cairo on the campus of al-Azhar University, the oldest and most important seat of Sunni Muslim learning in the world, to protest the drawings.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said his country would try to use its contacts with Arab countries to cool the violence. "We cannot allow this argument to become a battle between cultures," Steinmeier said.