Cartoon Protesters Direct Anger at U.S.
QALAT, Afghanistan (AP) _ Police killed four people Wednesday as Afghans enraged over drawings of the Prophet Muhammad marched on a U.S. military base in a volatile southern province, directing their anger not against Europe but America.
The U.S. base was targeted because the United States ``is the leader of Europe and the leading infidel in the world,″ said Sher Mohammed, a 40-year-old farmer who suffered a gunshot wound while taking part in the demonstration in the city of Qalat.
``They are all the enemy of Islam. They are occupiers in our country and must be driven out,″ Mohammed said.
Wednesday’s violence began when hundreds of protesters tried to storm the U.S. base, said Ghulam Nabi Malakhail, a provincial police chief. When warning shots failed to deter them, police shot into the crowd, killing four and wounding 11, he said.
Flying rocks injured eight police and one Afghan soldier, he said.
Two Pakistanis arrested for allegedly firing at police were being questioned to see whether they were linked to al-Qaida, Malakhail said. Some officials accuse al-Qaida of inciting three days of bloody riots across Afghanistan that have left 11 dead.
Protesters also burned three fuel tankers waiting to deliver gasoline to the base, said Malakhail. He said U.S. troops fired warning shots into the air.
U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said the American forces fired flares above the crowd, but he said it was not clear whether they fired their weapons.
Muslims around the world have demonstrated over the images _ including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb _ printed in Western media. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s top Shiite political leader criticized attacks on foreign embassies by Muslims.
``We value and appreciate peaceful Islamic protests,″ said Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. ``But we are against the idea of attacking embassies and other official sites.″
In the West Bank, about 300 Palestinians overpowered a Palestinian police detail and attacked an international observer mission in the city of Hebron.
Sixty members of the mission were inside, said Gunhild Forselv, spokeswoman for the Temporary International Presence in Hebron. A few protesters forced their way in, where unarmed observers waved clubs in an attempt to drive them off. Police reinforcements eventually restored order.
Muslims also demonstrated in Indian-controlled Kashmir, Bangladesh, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Turkey.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran and Syria of instigating protests in their countries, and President Bush called upon governments to stop the violence and protect the lives of diplomats overseas.
The United States and other countries were looking into whether extremist groups may be inciting protesters to riot, said Yonts, the U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan.
Zahor Afghan, editor for Erada, Afghanistan’s most respected newspaper, said the riots in his country have surprised him.
``No media in Afghanistan has published or broadcast pictures of these cartoons. The radio has been reporting on it, but there are definitely people using this to incite violence against the presence of foreigners in Afghanistan,″ he said.
Afghans who rioted Wednesday said they heard about the cartoons on the radio but none questioned had seen printed versions.
``The radio is talking about them all the time. Everybody heard about them this way,″ said 28-year-old shopkeeper Ramatullah, who uses only name.
Wednesday’s riot erupted despite an appeal from Afghanistan’s top Islamic organization, the Ulama Council, for an end to the violence.
``Islam says it’s all right to demonstrate but not to resort to violence. This must stop,″ senior cleric Mohammed Usman told The Associated Press. ``We condemn the cartoons but this does not justify violence. These rioters are defaming the name of Islam.″
In France, President Jacques Chirac asked media to avoid offending religious beliefs as another French newspaper reprinted the caricatures. The satirical French weekly Charlie-Hebdo also printed a new drawing under the headline ``Muhammad Overwhelmed by the Fundamentalists″ that showed the prophet with his head in his hands, remarking, ``It’s hard to be loved by idiots.″