Lebanese protesters torch Danish embassy in Beirut


Embassy burns
A protestor waves a green Islamic flag in front of the burning building housing the Danish mission, set on fire during a protest against publication of caricatures of Islam's revered prophet in European newspapers.

Troops fired bullets into the air and used tear gas and water cannons to push the crowds back after a small group of Islamic extremists tried to break through the security barrier outside the embassy.

Demonstrators attacked policemen with stones and set fire to several fire engines, witnesses said. Black smoke was seen billowing from the area. Security officials said at least 18 people were injured, including policemen, fire fighters and protesters. Witnesses saw at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.

A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said staff at the Danish Embassy had been evacuated two days ago.

Lebanon's Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani denounced the violence and appealed for calm, accusing infiltrators of sowing the dissent to "harm the stability of Lebanon."

Prime Minister Fuad Saniora also urged peaceful protests.

"Those who are committing these acts have nothing to do with Islam or with Lebanon," he said. "This is absolutely not the way we express our opinions."

In Beirut, protesters came by the busloads to rally outside the Danish Embassy, where they chanted, "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God!" Some 2,000 troops and riot police were deployed.

The trouble threatened to rile sectarian tensions in Beirut when protesters began stoning St. Maroun Church, one of the city's main Maronite Catholic churches, and property in Ashrafieh, a Christian area. Sectarian tension is a sensitive issue in Lebanon, where Muslims and Christian fought a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990.

Uproar over the cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and were then reprinted in a number of other European countries, has swept across the Muslim world. One depicted Prophet Mohammad with a turban resembling a bomb.

Security forces sealed all roads leading to the embassy in the eastern part of the Lebanese capital.

Islam forbids any depiction of the Prophet Mohammad.

Furious Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies yesterday in Damascus. They also damaged the Swedish embassy and tried to storm the French mission but were held off by riot police.

The Scandinavian countries and the United States condemned Syria for failing to protect the embassies.