- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 7, 2006

From combined dispatches

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s dominant coalition accused Syria yesterday of deliberately fomenting violent protests over cartoons about the Islamic prophet Muhammad, while the United States urged its Arab allies to help quell the spreading anger.

Syrian leaders held meetings, meanwhile, with Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Iraqi cleric who has been organizing protests over the drawings in his country.

In Iran, hundreds of protesters hurled stones and firebombs at the Danish Embassy in Tehran. Hours earlier, about 200 student demonstrators threw stones at the Austrian Embassy, breaking windows and starting small fires.

In Afghanistan, troops fatally shot four protesters, some as they tried to storm a U.S. military base outside Bagram — marking the first time a protest over the issue has targeted the United States.

Largely peaceful protests were reported throughout other parts of Asia, while a teenage boy was killed when protesters stampeded in Somalia.

The Bush administration urged Saudi Arabia to show leadership in calming the anger over the cartoons, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September, but it also criticized cartoons and articles in the Arab world that attack Christians and Jews.

“Certainly the leaders of the Saudi government might be individuals who might fulfill that [leadership] role,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. “There are others in the region who also might fulfill that role as well.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan urged “all governments to take steps to lower tensions and prevent violence.”

In Beirut, the anti-Syrian coalition that dominates the Lebanese government apologized to Denmark for the burning of its consulate on Sunday, while charging that Syrian intelligence agents had sparked the trouble to destabilize their country.

“The acts of sabotage that happened in [Sunday’s] protest are the start of a coup d’etat by the Syrian regime that aims to transform Lebanon into another Iraq,” said the coalition. It specifically blamed Syrian officers led by military intelligence chief Asef Shawkat, brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad.

In Washington, Mr. McCormack said Assistant Secretary of State David Welch had called the Syrian ambassador over the weekend “to express our strong protest and condemnation” of the torching of the Danish Embassy in Damascus on Saturday.

“Syria is a country where protests don’t just occur spontaneously, certainly not of this sort, not without the knowledge and support of the government,” Mr. McCormack said.

The cartoons, several of which satirize the prophet Muhammad, have appeared in newspapers across Europe, but most of the protests are aimed at Denmark, where they first appeared. Islam forbids any depiction of Muhammad.

Protesters demanded that Danish troops be removed from Iraq when more than 4,000 people rallied yesterday in the southern city of Kut. Such demonstrations have largely been organized by Sheik al-Sadr, whose Shi’ite religious party won 30 seats in December parliamentary elections.

Sheik al-Sadr held talks yesterday in the Syrian capital, where he expressed solidarity with the government and said “our common enemies — Israel, the United States and Britain — are trying to spread strife among us. The people will not fall for this.”

Iraqi insurgents have threatened to retaliate against Denmark’s 530 troops in Iraq, most of them in the Basra area. But officials at the Danish Embassy in Washington said there would be no change in the mission of those troops or the 200 Danish troops in Afghanistan.

Elsewhere yesterday, Palestinian demonstrators hurled stones at European Union offices in the Gaza Strip and pulled down the EU flag. In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Christians joined their Muslim neighbors in a solidarity rally.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan called on Muslims to accept apologies offered by some newspaper publishers and to act with “calm and dignity.” Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, head of the Vatican’s Pontificial Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, also called for restraint among Christians and Muslims.

• Staff writer James Morrison in Washington contributed to this article.

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