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Islamic protests intensify; Afghan police fire on mob

Death toll reaches 11 in weeklong violence

BERLIN -- In the worst violence yet in the spreading Islamic furor over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, police in Afghanistan yesterday opened fire on an armed mob rushing positions held by European peacekeepers, killing four protesters and wounding 25, according to NATO officials and Afghan authorities.

Also yesterday, Iran's largest newspaper, Hamshahri, announced a competition for the best Holocaust cartoons, apparently suggesting that running cartoons ridiculing the genocide would be comparable to Western newspapers' publication of cartoons showing the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist.

In the clash near the Afghan city of Maymana, Norwegian troops first fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a crowd armed with guns and grenades that tried to storm the peacekeepers' base, while NATO fighter jets roared low in a futile show of force. Then Afghan police fired guns at the crowd, killing four people, according to a spokesman at NATO headquarters in Brussels and news agency reports.

The unrest continued this morning in Afghanistan, despite an appeal for calm by the country's top Islamic organization. Afghan police fired into a crowd of rioters to stop them from marching on a US military base in Qalat city, officials said. At least two people were killed, according to news agency reports. The deaths brought to 11 the total number of lives lost in violence over the cartoons in the last week.

Afghanistan's Ulama Council went on radio and television today with its appeal. ''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."

It was one of several skirmishes involving Muslims infuriated by the cartoons; other protests erupted yesterday in countries including Iran, India, Pakistan, Niger, and Indonesia.

Scandinavians have been especially targeted because the satiric drawings originally appeared in a Danish newspaper, although in recent days the cartoons have been widely reprinted in scores of newspapers, mainly in Europe but also as far away as New Zealand. Muslims regard physical depictions of Prophet Mohammed, founder of the faith, as blasphemous -- although images exist of Mohammed in both Islamic and Western art, including a marble frieze in the US Supreme Court, where he is portrayed as a lawgiver.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark called the violence sweeping the Islamic world ''a growing global crisis."

President Bush called the prime minister to express ''solidarity and support" for beleaguered Denmark, according to the White House.

The European Union demanded that Islamic countries do a better job of protecting European citizens and diplomatic compounds in countries where emotions are running high. Danish and Norwegian embassies -- along with offices of France, Germany, the European Union, and the World Bank -- have been fire-bombed, destroyed, or damaged by mobs in Iran, Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, and Indonesia in recent days.

In Tehran, the Iranian paper Hamshahri said in a statement that its aim in sponsoring the Holocaust cartoon competition is to engage in a debate over Western values of free speech. The Iranian government, which is dominated by conservative Shi'ite Muslims, has severed trade ties with Denmark over the cartoons of Mohammed, and its leaders have vociferously condemned the publication of cartoons as a Western attack on Islam.

''Does Western free speech allow working on issues like America or Israel's crimes, or is this freedom good only for insulting the holy values of divine religion?" the paper asked, announcing that the illustrators of 12 winning cartoons will each get two gold coins worth about $140 apiece.

Israeli media have generally refused to publish the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, calling them offensive to Muslims.

The Iranian newspaper is politically aligned with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an anti-Western Shi'ite Muslim who recently dismissed the Holocaust -- in which 6 million Jews were murdered by Germany's Nazi regime -- as a ''myth." He has also called for Israel to be ''wiped off the map."

In Europe, a well-known Dutch-Belgian Islamic militant organization, the Arab-European League, posted anti-Jewish cartoons on its website, calling the crude drawings an exercise in free speech. One showed a Hollywood producer rejecting a film script about the Holocaust as ''unbelievable." Another cartoon showed Anne Frank -- a 13-year-old Jewish girl who perished in a concentration camp and whose diary was posthumously turned into a famous account of her family's attempt to hide from the Nazis -- lying naked in bed with Adolf Hitler.

Dyab Abou Jahjah, founder of the Arab-European League, said these cartoons were meant to be a ''daring" satire of European taboos. ''Europe has its sacred cows, even if they are not religious sacred cows," he said from Brussels.

European Jewish leaders and Holocaust memorial groups said Jews have grown used to routine anti-Semitic vilification in Muslim media.

''Still, it is astonishing and offensive that this controversy over Danish cartoons -- which has nothing whatever to do with Jews or Israel -- is being turned into a mocking, vilifying attack on one of history's greatest tragedies," said Karen Pollock, chief executive of the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust. The Iranian cartoon contest, she said in a phone interview, ''is about vicious anti-Semitism, not about 'free speech.' "

Joseph Sitruk, head of the Conference of European Rabbis, said from Paris: ''The Iranian regime has plummeted to new depths if it regards the deaths of 6 million Jews as a matter for humor or a way to score cheap political points."

In Chechnya, officials banned all Danish organizations, causing several Scandinavian relief agencies to suspend operations.

In Germany, the leader of the Central Council of Muslims urged an end to violence, but said that Muslim wrath is understandable given that so many European newspapers have reprinted the cartoons. ''The drawings have unleashed frustrations that have been built up over a long time," said Ayyub Axel Koehler. ''[The cartoons] show the disrespect for, and the helplessness of, the Muslim world. But it does not excuse such outbreaks of violence."

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