| Smoke rises from the Danish consulate after being set on fire by demonstrators in Beirut on Sunday. (Reuters)
Beirut, Feb. 5 (Reuters): Angry demonstrators set the Danish consulate in Beirut ablaze today, and the violent turn in protests over publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad drew condemnation from European capitals and moderate Muslims.
Syrians set fire to the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus yesterday. They damaged the Swedish embassy and tried to storm the French mission but were held off by riot police.
“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,” Denmark’s foreign minister Per Stig Moeller said.
Denmark is the focus for Muslim rage as images that Muslims find offensive, including one of the prophet with a turban resembling a bomb, first appeared in a Danish daily in what has become a face-off between press freedom and religious respect.
The Danish foreign ministry urged Danes today to leave Lebanon and advised its citizens not to travel there.
One protester, among those who set the consulate on fire in Beirut, was encircled by flames and died after jumping from the third floor. Police fired tear gas to disperse the volatile protest involving thousands of people, 60 people were arrested.
“The violence now ' particularly the burning of Danish missions abroad ' is absolutely outrageous,” British foreign secretary Jack Straw said, adding: “The vast majority of people of the Muslim faith in the UK and elsewhere have exercised their right to protest about these cartoons in an entirely peaceful way.”
As peaceful demonstrations turned to ransacking Danish diplomatic offices and burning them in Syria and Lebanon, world leaders as well as prominent moderate Muslims appealed for calm.
“This has nothing to do with Islam at all,” Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora told Future television. “Destabilising security and vandalism give a wrong image of Islam. Prophet Mohammad cannot be defended this way.”
In the row, newspapers have insisted on their right to print the cartoons, citing freedom of speech, but for Muslims depicting the Prophet Mohammad is prohibited by Islam.