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Nine Killed in Libyan Cartoon Protest

February 18, 2006

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) _ Libyans protesting caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad set fire to the Italian consulate in Benghazi on Friday and clashed with police in a riot that killed at least nine people, an Italian diplomat said.

Libyan state television showed a part of the consulate on fire, and firefighters trying to extinguish it as ambulances took casualties away in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, about 400 miles east of the capital Tripoli.

Libyan security officials said police fired bullets and tear gas to contain more than 1,000 demonstrators hurling rocks and bottles during the five-hour riot.

Antonio Simoes-Concalves, an Italian consular official, said nine protesters were killed and several more had been wounded. He told The Associated Press in Rome that the Libyan police were not able to control the crowd, even though they were firing bullets and tear gas.

``They are still continually firing,″ he said Friday night, speaking by phone from inside the consulate where he was holed up. ``They haven’t managed to block them.″

The Libyan officials said 11 people were killed or wounded. The casualties included police officers, but the officials declined to say how many people had died. No Italians were injured during the riot, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.

There was no indication why the Italian consulate was targeted in this North African country, which was once an Italian colony. The Italian Foreign Ministry said the consulate was the only Western diplomatic mission in Benghazi.

However in Rome, Italian politicians blamed Cabinet Minister Roberto Calderoli, who recently said he would wear a T-shirt printed with the prophet cartoons, and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi asked for his resignation Friday.

The Italian ambassador, Francesco Trupiano, however, told SkyTG 24 that the rioters’ main protest was against the original publication in the European media of the caricatures.

With the nine dead in Benghazi, at least 28 people have been killed in protests over the drawings in the past several weeks, most of them earlier in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Beirut, angry demonstrators torched the building housing the Danish mission on Feb. 6.

Libyan television showed two cars burning and another two gutted by fire, and a police vehicle with its rear window smashed. Wounded men were shown being carried to ambulances.

Police fired shots to try to disperse the crowd, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The Italian ambassador to Tripoli met late Friday with the Libyan interior minister ``who expressed the condemnation of his government for the acts of violence occurring in Benghazi,″ the Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

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