Thousands Protest Muhammad Cartoons in Beirut

Published February 10, 2006

| Associated Press

The leader of Hezbollah, heading a march by hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims Thursday, said President Bush and his secretary of state should "shut up" after they accused Syria and Iran of fueling protests over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Denmark, meanwhile, said it had temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Beirut, which was burned by protesters Sunday, and all staff had left Lebanon.

Danes feared religious processions in Muslim countries Thursday to mark the Shiite festival of Ashoura would spill over into violence against its diplomats and soldiers after days of protests over the caricatures, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September.

About 2,000 hard-line Muslims also rallied and burned a Danish flag Thursday in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.

In Beirut, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah urged Muslims worldwide to keep demonstrating until there is an apology over the drawings and Europe passes laws forbidding insults to the prophet.

The head of the guerrilla group, which is backed by Iran and Syria, spoke before a mass Ashoura procession. Whipping up the crowds on the most solemn day for Shiites worldwide, Nasrallah declared:

"Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities."

"We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices but also by our blood," he told the crowds, estimated by organizers at about 700,000. Police had no final estimates but said the figure was likely to be even higher.

Speaking about the controversy for the first time on Wednesday, Bush condemned the deadly rioting sparked by the cartoons and urged foreign leaders to halt the spreading violence. Rice said Iran and Syria "have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it."

Iran has rejected the U.S. accusations. Syria has not commented publicly.

In protests throughout the Muslim world, demonstrators who saw the drawings as deeply insulting to Islam have attacked embassies in Syria, Lebanon and Iran and rioted in Afghanistan. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet.

Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that first published the drawings, apologized last week for offending Muslims but stood by its decision to print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech.

Other European publications recently reprinted the drawings, which included an image of Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped with a burning fuse, in a show of solidarity.

Denmark's government has said it could not apologize over a newspaper's publication.

In Brussels, Belgium, Mohamed Ahmed Sherif, chairman of the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society, said Muslims see the drawings as a direct attack on their values and called the decision to print them in European newspapers a "hate program."

Sherif, speaking during a visit Brussels where he met European Union officials, said the cartoons only serve to fuel extremism.

"Nobody should blame the Muslims if they are unhappy about the images of the Prophet Muhammad," Sherif said. "It's forbidden to create a hate program to show that the prophet is a terrorist while he's not. Don't ask us to try to make people understand that this is not a campaign of hate."

Nasrallah, a black-turbaned, bearded cleric, demanded an apology for the cartoons and laws to prevent a repetition.

"There can be no settlement before an apology and there can be no settlement before laws are legislated by the European Parliament and the parliaments of European countries," he said.

Islamic nations should demand "a law committing the press and the media in the West that proscribes insulting our prophet. If this matter cannot be achieved that means they (West) insist on continuing this," he added.

Nasrallah said that if the controversy touched on Jews or Israel the West would have reacted differently and quickly.

In Denmark, the Danish Broadcasting Corp., or DR, said its journalists in Beirut had been warned to stay away from the Shiite Ashoura ceremonies. "It has become more difficult to be a Danish reporter in the Middle East," Lisbet Knudsen, head of DR's news desk said.

The Bangladeshi protesters — most members of the hard-line group, Islamic Constitution Movement — marched through the streets outside the country's main mosque in downtown Dhaka shouting, "Down with Islam's Enemies!" police said.

"We can't tolerate such disrespect to our prophet. It's a shameful act. We condemn it," A.T.M. Hemayetuddin, a movement leader, told supporters.

In the capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, about 200 people turned an Islamic procession into a protest against the prophet drawings, shouting "Down with Denmark" and "Down with Israel." Senior Superintendent of Police Muneer Khan said 25 people were arrested as police beat back angry demonstrators.

Malaysia's government Thursday indefinitely shut down a local newspaper for reprinting one of the drawings.

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