| A man cries at a protest against the cartoons in Istanbul. (AFP)
Jalalabad (Afghanistan), Feb. 20 (Reuters): Hundreds of Afghan students shouted support today for Osama bin Laden and threatened to join al Qaida during a protest against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
In an attempt to cool the controversy after a weekend of rioting in countries including Nigeria, where 28 people were killed, and Libya, where 11 died, Pope Benedict said the world’s religions and their symbols had to be respected.
Pakistan’s main Islamist alliance vowed to broaden its campaign with more protests targeted at the US and Pakistani Presidents.
Pakistan's main Islamist alliance, the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), said today it would broaden its campaign. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, president of the MMA, was held under house arrest in Lahore at the weekend to prevent him leading a rally in Islamabad yesterday.
After his release today, he called publication of the cartoons in European newspapers “part of the clash of civilisations led by (President George W.) Bush”.
“Therefore, our movement is against Bush as well as against Mush,” he said, referring to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
The protest in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad passed off without violence. Students gathered at the university campus chanted: “Death to Denmark”,“Death to America” and “Death to France”, a witness said.
They also shouted support for al Qaida leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahri.
Shouting “Death to Karzai”, they demanded President Hamid Karzai close the embassies of Denmark, the US and France and expel their forces from Afghanistan.
“If they abuse the Prophet of Islam again we will all become al Qaida,” the students shouted.
Two weeks ago in Afghanistan, at least 10 people were killed in several days of protests over the cartoons but violent demonstrations there have largely petered out.
The cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper last year and reprinted in European papers, have sparked worldwide protests by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to depict the Prophet.
In a speech to the new Moroccan ambassador to the Vatican, the Pope said: “In order to promote peace and understanding between peoples and mankind, it is both vital and urgent that religions and their symbols are respected and that believers are not the object of provocations that wound their religious feelings.”
“However, intolerance and violence can never be justified as a response to any offence, because it is a response that is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion,” he added.
Some 56 people have been killed and at least 280 injured in the protests, half of them in northern Nigeria. In the deadliest protests this weekend, at least 28 people died in riots in two Muslim states in northern Nigeria.