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Protesters burn consulate over cartoons

Lebanese minister quits as Muslims denounce caricatures



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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- Thousands of protesters packed the streets of Beirut on Sunday, some clashing with security forces and setting the Danish Consulate on fire in anger over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

The protests prompted the resignation Sunday of Lebanon's Interior Minister, Hassan al-Sabaa.

The protests soon escalated into fights between Muslims and Christians, and some protesters threw rocks at a Maronite Catholic church, bringing back memories of the civil war that once gripped the capital.

The violence came one day after protesters in neighboring Damascus, Syria, torched the Norwegian Embassy and the Danish Embassy, furious that newspapers in both nations had published images banned under Islamic law. (Watch as protesters battle security forces in Lebanon -- 2:08)

More protests were reported in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories Sunday. And Iraq's transportation ministry announced it was severing all ties with the Danish and Norwegian governments, a move that includes terminating all contracts with companies based in those countries.

Iran said Sunday it had recalled its ambassador to Denmark over the publication of the cartoons.

"Iran has summoned its ambassador in Denmark to Tehran," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference, according to Reuters. "Freedoms should be accompanied by responsibility."

Consulate destroyed

In Beirut, it took security forces several hours to quell the protests -- despite the fact that it was planned in advance and well publicized. (Read about one Danish ambassador's meeting with protesters)

The violent protests made it much harder for allies to support al-Sabaa. Some politicians had long called for his resignation, including many who are against the government that came into power after Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon.

Some protesters threw rocks while police fired tear gas.

By the time it was over, the 10-story consulate was destroyed, its entire front smashed. Other nearby buildings also were damaged or destroyed.

No staff members were hurt in Beirut or Damascus. But Denmark and Norway advised their citizens to leave Syria, and after Sunday's demonstration, Denmark recommended that Danes leave Lebanon.

"The Danish government urges all leaders, political and religious, in the countries concerned to call on their populations to remain calm and refrain from violence," Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said in Copenhagen.

"We all have a responsibility to avoid that the situation escalates any further and to contain the violent protests and to return to dialogue."

Despite his government's repeated efforts in the past, Moeller seemed to still struggle to get the message to Muslims that his government, like most Western nations, does not control what is published.

"We do not print the papers -- the government does not print the papers," he said. "There's freedom of expression."

He repeatedly explained that Denmark has a law against blasphemy, and it is up to the courts -- not the Danish government -- to decide whether a newspaper is guilty of blasphemy.

Calls for calm

International leaders have called for calm as well.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a statement last week supporting freedom of the press, but noting it "should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."

He called for "peaceful dialogue and mutual respect."

The White House issued a statement Saturday condemning the torching of embassies in Damascus and calling on "all governments to take measures now to lower tensions and prevent violence."

The U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday emphasizing publication of cartoons that incite religious or ethnic hatreds is unacceptable.

Some Lebanese politicians spoke against violence.

"We do not accept any act that affects the security of others," said Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. "These groups include people who intended to destroy properties on purpose, giving a bad example of Islam.

"Islam has nothing to do with any of this, no matter how others disrespected the prophets, about whom God says, 'We have protected you from those who ridicule.' "

Protests in Afghanistan were more peaceful. About 3,000 people marched through the town of Mihtarlam 60 miles east of Kabul, chanting anti-Danish slogans and burning a Danish flag.

They demanded the prosecution of editors of the Danish newspaper that originally published the cartoons, whom they accuse of blasphemy.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the cartoons and the violent protests. Watch Karzai's take on the furor over the cartoons -- 16:15)

Syrian officials denounced the violence in Damascus and called on protesters to exercise self-restraint, Syrian TV executive Nidal Kabalan told CNN. (Full story)

There have also been protests in Britain, Pakistan, Jordan and other parts of the world.

On Friday, Pakistan's government unanimously passed a resolution condemning the cartoons. (Full story)

Free speech argument

The controversy began in September, when 12 drawings of the Muslim prophet were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The paper said it had asked cartoonists to draw the pictures because the media was censoring itself over Muslim issues.

The controversy grew in January, when a Norwegian newspaper reprinted the drawings.

Some images in question were considered to be particularly demeaning, including an image of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.

Following the Norwegian article, other newspapers picked up the story and published the drawings, including France's Le Monde and Italy's La Stampa.

About two weeks ago, two European newspapers -- Die Welt in Germany and France Soir in France -- and two small weekly Jordanian newspapers -- Shihan and Al-Mehwar -- reprinted the cartoons and characterized the publications as a matter of free speech.

According to Jordan's Petra News Agency, arrest warrants were issued Saturday for the editors-in-chief of the Jordanian newspapers.

Morocco and Tunisia confiscated copies of France Soir, which also published the cartoons.

Jyllands-Posten newspaper has apologized for the cartoons, saying it did not mean to offend Muslims and that the drawings had to be understood in their original contexts.

The paper's cultural editor, Flemming Rose, said the uproar came after "radical imams from Denmark traveled to the Middle East, deliberately lying about these cartoons," and saying that the paper was owned by the government and preparing a new translation of the Quran "censoring the word of 'Allah,' which is a grave sin according to Islam."

CNN has chosen to not show the cartoons out of respect for Islam.

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