From London to Jakarta, fury at Mohamed cartoons grows

Tens of thousands took to the streets in Gaza and the West Bank in some of the biggest Palestinian demonstrations in a decade. In Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, anger boiled over as up to 300 hardline Islamist activists went on the rampage in the lobby of a Jakarta building housing the Danish embassy.

Washington stepped into the row to condemn the cartoons. But the United States has opened itself up to the accusation that by inserting itself into the controversy it is seeking to repair its own battered image among Muslims.

"These cartoons are offensive to the belief of Muslims," a State Department spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said. "We all fully recognise and respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with responsibility."

In Pakistan, President Pervez Musharraf condemned the cartoons. "I have been hurt, grieved and I am angry," he said, describing European papers reprinting the cartoons as "vicious, outrageous and provocative". He said the cartoons would escalate the "clash of civilisations" between the West and the Islamic world, and that the newspapers that printed them were "oblivious of what is happening in the world".

In Gaza, Danish flags were burned after 10,000 protesters marched along the main Omar al-Muktar Street to a rally organised by the Islamic group Hamas, which won last week's Palestinian elections. And while some imams urged restraint in their Friday prayers, others were outspoken. At the Omari mosque in Gaza City, 9,000 worshippers were told those behind the cartoons should have their heads cut off. In the West Bank city of Nablus, Imam Hassan Sharif said: "If they want a war of religion, we are ready."

The clashes in Indonesia underlined Denmark's unwanted role as a focal point for Muslim anger at perceived Western blasphemy. Demonstrators outside the embassy in Jakarta pelted the Danish coat of arms with eggs, tore down the flag and set it on fire.

They pushed their way past security guards into the building housing the embassy, but were stopped by their leaders before they could reach the offices on the 25th floor.

In Bangladesh, some 4,000 people demonstrated against the cartoons in the capital, Dhaka, chanting: "Apologise to Muslims." Many joined the protest after Friday prayers at the city's main mosque.

"Put a brake on your so-called unlimited freedom of expression, otherwise you will not be spared," Moulana Kazi Morshed al-Haq, leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamic organisation, said at the otherwise peaceful rally.

In Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said: "As much as we condemn this, we must have, as Muslims, the courage to forgive and to not make an issue of dispute between religions or cultures."

But, although protests around Asia provided dramatic pictures, they were small and restrained by local standards.

At least 15 people were killed in anti-US riots in Afghanistan after Newsweek reported US interrogators at Guantanamo Bay had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet - a report the magazine later retracted.

The largest gatherings on the so called "day of anger" came in Gaza City, where bullets were fired into the air as protesters chanted: "There is no God but God and the Prophet is the messenger of God," and "We sacrifice our blood and soul to you, Prophet of God."

Mushir al-Masri, a newly elected member of the PLC, told the rally: "The victory for Hamas was a political earthquake and the insult to the Prophet Mohamed was another earthquake."

Yesterday one of the leading Christian Palestinian clerics in Gaza, Father Manuel Mussallam, said that "Mohamed is a high Arab personality".

He said that the Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar had met him and Christian nuns on Thursday within an hour of complaints about a statement issued by Fatah and Islamic Jihad armed militants. These warned that churches in Gaza, along with the EU office, would be "bombarded" if plans for a Koran-burning protest in Denmark went ahead.

He added: "We are not afraid of Hamas. We fear fanatics and there are fanatics in all religions, Christian, Muslim even Buddhist."

The global demonstrations against the cartoons spread to Britain as hundreds of Muslims marched through London protesting at what they see as a media attack on Islam.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said: "There is freedom of speech, we all respect that, but there is not any obligation to insult or to be gratuitously inflammatory. I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong."

Muslim leaders will today call on broadcasters and newspapers to show restraint when they meet in Birmingham.

A number of television broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV News and Channel 4 News, chose to illustrate their bulletins this week by showing how European newspapers had used the newspaper images.

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