By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
BEIRUT, LEBANON (BosNewsLife) — Lebanon’s Interior Minister resigned late Sunday, February 5, after an estimated 20,000 angry Muslims not only torched the Danish Embassy but also attacked the Christian community in the capital Beirut over published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
Hassan al-Sabaa, a Sunni Muslim retired officer loyal to the country’s anti-Syrian majority coalition, submitted his resignation at a late night government session to discuss the anti-Christian violence, in which one person was killed and dozens others were injured.
One demonstrator, among those who set the embassy on fire, was encircled by flames and died after jumping from the third floor, Reuters news agency quoted a senior security official as saying. 28 other demonstrators were reportedly injured in clashes with riot police.
Reporters said protesters attacked three fire engines at the embassy to stop them from extinguishing the blaze and hung up a banner at the building’s entrance reading: “We are ready to sacrifice our children for you, O Prophet Mohammad.”
Waving green Islamic flags and chanting “God is greatest,” they also threw stones at the Maronite Catholic church as violent protests spread towards Christian areas in eastern Beirut late Sunday, February 5. In addition the protestors attacked properties and shops in the district, the Christian area of Ashrafiyeh, throwing stones, breaking windows and overturning cars, eyewitnesses said.
Some were seen carrying banners that read “Whoever insults Prophet Mohammad is to be killed” while throwing stones at security forces, who fired teargas and used water cannon to disperse the crowd. Security forces reportedly arrested 174 protesters: 76 Syrians; 38 Lebanese; 35 Palestinians and 25 stateless Bedouins.
The attacks came as Lebanon’s Christians were already on edge amid reports that the name of Lebanon’s Christian Maronite Patriarch, Butros Nasrallah Sfeir appeared on a hit-list uncovered by a United Nations commission probing the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, BosNewsLife monitored.
Speaking on condition of anonymity the source told Italy’s Adnkronos International (AKI) news agency last month that publisher Gibran Tueni killed in a December 12 bomb blast in Beirut also appeared on the the list which was submitted by the former head of the UN panel, Detlev Mehlis to the Lebanese authorities.
Parliamentarian Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated former Premier Rafik Hariri, condemned the violence and threats against Lebanese Christians. “The attacks against especially the Christian community are unacceptable,” he told reporters Sunday, February 5. “Every person who threw a stone will be prosecuted,” he said.
There were fears that Sunday’s Muslim demonstrations would provoke an angry Christian outcry in a country that has not fully recovered from its 1975-1990 civil war. Some turbaned clerics reportedly pleaded with demonstrators to stop the violence, as red and white flag of Denmark was set alight.
“This is the fate of all those who turn against Islam and our prophet. They will be burned by the fires of hell,” some demonstrators were heard saying. Many of them turned out in response to a call by a group called the “National Movement for the Defense of the Prophet Mohammed,” news reports said.
The Danish government called on its nationals to leave Lebanon and neighboring Syria where Muslim demonstrators earlier torched the Norwegian Embassy in Damascus and the building housing Denmark’s embassy. Denmark also urged its citizens in these countries to stay “indoors until the travel possibilities have been clarified.” Government officials said Muslims should understand they had no control over what newspapers write, as this would be in violation of the freedom of speech.
“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 after the latest attacks.
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. European publications, including BosNewsLife News Agency, re-published some of the cartoons this week citing freedom of press and “the right of all people to make an informed judgment on issues in the news.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, urged the Western world to show restraint and said the cartoons were unacceptable. Asked on Cable News Network (CNN)’s Late Edition program why his government allows Anti-Semitic cartoons in newspapers, he said that “this had to do with the specific situation in the region.”
Thousands of angry Muslims also protested in other cities this weekend, including Islamabad, Pakistan, Baghdad, Iraq; Khartoum, Sudan; Jakarta, Indonesia; and the Palestinian territories. Iraq’s Transportation Ministry said it will cut all ties with Denmark. (With BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and reports from Lebanon and the region).
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