02/03/2006, 00.00
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Muhammad cartoons provoke attacks and bombs

Protesters force their way into the Danish Embassy in Jakarta; a bomb is thrown at the French Cultural Centre in Gaza; demonstrations take place in Muslim countries. A Saudi minister calls on the Vatican to intervene.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Whilst some call for an international day of anger, the number of threats against Westerners rises. In Gaza a bomb is thrown against the French Cultural Centre as a Saudi minister makes an unexpected request for the Vatican to intervene. In Jordan, a tabloid paper, Shihan, publishes three of the 12 caricatures that poke fun at Muhammad but in Indonesia a magazine that put them on its web site is forced to remove them. In the meantime, western leaders offer contradictory reactions to the affair.

The brush fire set off by the caricatures published last September by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten seems unstoppable. Demonstrations multiply as Muslims attending mosques for Friday prayers express their anger; in some cases, instigated by mullahs' sermons.

In Palestine, Hamas has called for a day of protest but said that Europeans should not be attacked. In Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein during morning prayers said that "those who are behind these acts are trying to spread a hateful racism, launching a war against the values of Islam and the prophet." At the end of the prayers, a few thousands worshippers demonstrated on the Esplanade of the Mosques shouting "condemnation is not enough, we must respond with fire".

In Gaza and the West Bank, armed men have a start an anti-Western manhunt, threatening to attack Danish, French and Norwegian nationals; so far there have been no victims.

In Jakarta, members of the Islamic Defenders' Front (FPI) stormed the building housing the Danish Embassy. They thrashed the lobby and burned a Danish flag. The group dispersed about an hour later, after the Danish ambassador agreed to publish an apology in the local media.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen is not however prepared to do the same. Although he said that "personally, I would like to make it clear that I am deeply distressed that many Muslims have seen the drawings in the Danish newspaper as a defamation of the Prophet Muhammad," he also said he was not going to apologise. Instead, in a meeting with 76 ambassadors about the crisis, he "made it clear that the government could not interfere with the media nor take any legal steps against them.

Although not apologising, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticised the decision by some western newspapers to print the caricatures of Muhammad, calling them offensive, insensitive, disrespectful and wrong. But Miklos Haraszti, representative on freedom of the media for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said that the OSCE supported responsible journalism but thought governments should not intervene in the issue.

Jordan's King Abdallah described "vilifying the prophet as a crime that could not be justified by freedom of expression", even though some papers, including Jordanian magazine Shihan, published some of the cartoons.

Across the entire Muslim world, protests are spreading, from Iran to the Maldives, including those whose governments are facing Islamic extremism.

In Saudi Arabia, Interior Minister Prince Nayef said Riyadh hope "that religious centres like the Vatican will clarify their opinion in this respect".

Iraq's top Shia Muslim cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani urged people to protest but without violence.

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