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World: EU Calls For Calm As Cartoon Protests Rage

Protests against the cartoons in Lebanon on 5 February (epa) Protests continue to flare in Muslim countries in the wake of the publication of cartoons in European media satirizing the Prophet Muhammad. Reacting to escalating attacks on EU targets, the European Commission has condemned all violence and called for peaceful dialogue.

BRUSSELS, 6 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The violent protests that have flared up in recent days in Muslim countries over European cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad claimed more victims today.

In Afghanistan, police fired on some 2,000 protesters who tried to break into the U.S. military base at Bagram, 60 kilometers from the capital, Kabul. Two demonstrators were killed and five injured in the violence.

Police Fire At Demonstrators

In a separate demonstration, hundreds of protesters, marched on the Danish Embassy in Kabul, where they also clashed with police.

And in yet another protest in Afghanistan, two demonstrators were shot to death and three other people, including two police officers, were injured in the central city of Mihtarlam when police fired on hundreds of demonstrators.

In Somalia, one youth was reported killed during protests there today.

On 5 February, Lebanese officials said one person was killed during riots over the cartoons in Beirut.

Today’s protests follow a continually escalating spate of attacks against European diplomatic targets in the Middle East and elsewhere. Last week, an EU office came under siege in Gaza and over the weekend the Danish embassies in Damascus and Beirut were set alight.

EU Condemns The Violence

The European Commission today condemned the violence “in the strongest possible terms.” Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger told reporters in Brussels the commission urges all parties to opt for dialogue.

“We are calling on all people concerned to return to a peaceful way of discussing these issues," Laitenberger said.

Unnecessary Offense

Laitenberger repeated the acknowledgment made last week by a number of EU commissioners that the series of cartoons, first published by a Danish newspaper and later other European publications, have caused unnecessary offence to the world’s Muslims.

“The commission is aware that the cartoons published in European media have aggrieved many Muslims across the world, but once again, no grievance, perceived or real, justifies acts of violence such as perpetrated on the weekend," he said.

However, the European Commission said there will not be a more extensive pan-EU reaction to the events at this stage. Laitenberger said it is up to the EU member states to take whatever measures they see fit.

Violence Called 'Unacceptable'

Laitenberger also said the commission fully aligns itself with a declaration adopted by the current EU Presidency, Austria, over the weekend. The statement condemned the attacks of the Danish and other embassies and threats made against EU citizens and property as "utterly unacceptable," calling on all parties concerned to show restraint and to refrain from further violence.

EU officials in Brussels say the immediate response is left to the member states because the EU has few competencies when it comes to the protection of diplomatic premises abroad.

EU Also Backs Freedom Of Speech

Laitenberger on 6 February defended the EU’s value of free speech, saying it also provides recourse to those who protest against the cartoons.

“May I add that the freedom of expression which the commission is committed to respect and defend is not at the base not only of the possibility to publish such cartoons, but also to criticize them," Laitenberger said. "It is indeed only through a vigorous but peaceful debate of opinions under the protection of the freedom of expression that mutual understanding can be deepened and mutual respect can be built.”

However, officials in Brussels acknowledge that the row over the cartoons could have an impact on the EU’s longer-term attempts at dialogue with the Muslim world. In the wake of the Iraq war, the EU has tried to differentiate its position from that of the United States in search of greater influence in the region.

EU Remains Committed To Dialogue With Muslims

The current upsurge of violence could also feed into the EU’s own troubles with integrating its estimated 15 million Muslims, evidenced most recently by the riots in French suburbs last autumn.

One EU diplomat told RFE/RL today that the EU remains “extremely committed” to dialogue with the Muslim world. The official said the freedom of expression and respect between cultures and civilizations are both European values.

Laitenberger also said the EU is convinced that the violent demonstrations do not adequately reflect the vast majority of public opinion in the Muslim world.

Protests in Kabul on 6 February (epa)

“I think it is obvious that the vast majority of the Muslims distance themselves from the violent reactions," Laitenberger said. "This is attested by the reactions of the different Muslim communities in the European Union and beyond [its borders].”

EU diplomats say that the so-called Barcelona process of aid and closer political ties to Middle Eastern and southern Mediterranean countries contains no “immediate mechanisms” for influencing governments in the region.

The Cartoon Controversy

The Cartoon Controversy

Islamabad residents protesting against the Prophet Muhammad cartoons on February 15 (epa)

An Unfolding Conflict

19 February 2006: A full-page apology by "Jyllands-Posten," dated 5 February, appears in papers in Saudi Arabia. Churches in Libya, Nigeria, and Pakistan are attacked, as too is the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.

18 February: Forty-five die in Nigeria as churches, hotels, and shops are torched in a predominantly Muslim northern state. Roberto Calderoli resigns from the Italian cabinet after being blamed for riots in Libya that ended with the destruction of the Italian Embassy and the loss of 10 lives. The Libyan interior minister and local police chiefs are sacked for using disproportionate force to quell the riots.

17 February: Ten Libyan protestors are killed during a demonstration that culminates with the burning of the Italian Embassy in Tripoli. Protestors link the demonstrations to the decision of an Italian minister to wear T-shirts showing the cartoons.

16 February: The Russian media watchdog pledges to take a tough line against any organization accused of "insulting religious feelings."

15 February: The Danish government says the Iraqi government wants Danish troops to remain. A far-right Italian minister, Roberto Calderoli, says he plans to wear T-shirts emblazoned with some of the "Jyllands-Posten" cartoons. In Pakistan, three more protestors are killed, one in Lahore and two in Peshawar, as tens of thousands demonstrate.

14 February: Pakistani police shoot dead two protesters in Lahore. In Iran, crowds attack the British and German embassies. Political leaders in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah call for Danish troops to leave the country. In Israel, a cartoonist launches a competition for the best anti-Semitic cartoons by Jews themselves. In Europe, the Portugese president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, promises support for Denmark and the democratic system in a dispute that reminds him of his country's dictatorial past.

13 February: A leading Iranian newspaper, "Hamshahri," invites cartoons about the Holocaust in a competition aimed at testing the limits of free speech in the West.

12 February: Intelligence reports suggest Danes in Indonesia are under threat. Denmark urges its nationals to leave the country. It had previously made similar appeals to Danes in many Muslim countries.

10 February: Thousands of Malayans protest, as Western and Muslim political, cultural, and religious leaders gather to discuss differences between the Western and Muslim worlds.

9 February: The Swedish government forces offline a website that asked readers to submit their own cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

8 February: Security forces open fire on protestors in the Afghan city of Qalat, killing four, on a day of angry and sometimes violent scenes around the world. Washington accuses the Syrian and Iranian governments of inciting violence.

7 February: Iran's largest newspaper invites cartoons of the Holocaust, saying it wants to test the limits of Western freedom of expression.

6 February: Widespread unrest over the cartoons reported in Afghanistan. One person was reported killed and four wounded in Laghman Province.

6 February: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expresses "distress" over the publication of the cartoons, but condemns the violent reactions in the Muslim world.

5 February: The Danish Consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, is torched.

4 February: Mobs burn the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Chilean embassies in Syria. Protests in Denmark turn violent.

1 February: Papers in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain run reprints of the cartoons in a show of solidarity.

30 January: The EU says it will take World Trade Organization (WTO) action if the boycott persists. Several Islamic groups, including Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, call for a worldwide boycott of Danish products. Masked gunmen in storm EU office in Gaza. The Danish paper apologizes.

29 January: "Jyllands-Posten" prints a statement in Arabic saying the drawings were published in line with freedom of expression and not a campaign against Islam. Palestinians burn Danish flags and Libya announces it will close its embassy in Denmark.

28 January: The Danish company Arla places advertisements in Middle Eastern newspapers to try to stop boycott of its products.

27 January: Thousands denounce the cartoons during Friday prayers in Iraq.

26 January: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador to Denmark and initiates a boycott of Danish goods.

10 January 2006: The cartoons are reprinted by the Norwegian newspaper "Magazinet."

14 November: Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistan-based group, protests in Islamabad.

20 October: Ambassadors of 10 Muslim countries complain to Danish Prime Minister. "Jyllands-Posten" reports that illustrators have received death threats.

30 September 2005: The Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" publishes 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

(compiled by RFE/RL)

See also:

Calming The Storm

Former Jailed Iranian Cartoonist Discusses Muhammad Caricatures

Western, Eastern Media View Cartoon Crisis As Test Of Values