11 killed in Libya cartoon riot
In deadliest demonstration yet against Prophet Muhammad caricatures, Libyans riot at Italian consulate Friday, setting building on fire; 29 people killed altogether in cartoon riots throughout Muslim world
Libyans angry over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad rioted at the Italian consulate on Friday, storming the building and setting it on fire. At least 11 people were killed in clashes with police.
It was the deadliest demonstration yet against the cartoons, which have set off violent protests throughout the Muslim world. At least 29 people have been killed altogether.
In Pakistan, a cleric announced a USD 1 million bounty for killing the cartoonist. Denmark, where a newspaper first published the cartoons,
temporarily closed its embassy in Pakistan and advised its citizens to leave the country.
Libyan security officials said 11 people were killed or wounded during the riot in the eastern city of Benghazi when police firing bullets and tear gas tried to contain more than 1,000 demonstrators hurling rocks and bottles. The casualties included police officers, but the officials declined to say how many people had died.
Rioters charged the consular compound and set fire to the first floor of the building, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Domenico Bellantone, an Italian diplomat, said 10 or 11 people — all Libyan — had died.
Reaction to T-shirt printed with cartoons
Antonio Simoes-Concalves, an Italian consular official in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city, said Libyan police were not able to control the crowd.
"They are still continually firing," Simoes-Concalves said Friday night, speaking on the telephone from inside the consulate where he was holed up.
About an hour after Simoes-Concalves spoke, Bellantone said the rioters had dispersed.
"The situation is calm now," he said.
The riot appeared to be a reaction to Italian Cabinet Minister Roberto Calderoli, who said this week he would wear a T-shirt printed with the cartoons, which have provoked protests across the Muslim world. His remark was widely published in Libya.
Calderoli wore the T-shirt beneath a suit on Friday. Hours later, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi asked for his resignation, the ANSA news agency reported.
Libyan television showed police officers carrying Kalashnikov rifles in the street outside the consulate, and the newscaster told viewers that "some protesters sneaked into the compound and set part of the consulate on fire."
The Italian consulate is the only Western diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
There was no demonstration outside the Italian Embassy in Tripoli, a possible indication of greater state control in the capital. Politics is tightly controlled in Libya — a former Italian colony — and open dissent is rare.
Cleric: Kill cartoonists, get reward
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 Pakistan, the cleric Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi said the mosque and the religious school he leads would give a USD 25,000 reward and a car for killing the cartoonist who drew the caricatures — considered blasphemous by many Muslims. He said a local jewelers' association would also give USD 1 million, but no representative of the association was available to confirm the offer.
"This is a unanimous decision of by all imams of Islam that whoever insults the prophets deserves to be killed and whoever will take this insulting man to his end, will get this prize," he said.
Qureshi did not name any cartoonist and he did not appear aware that 12 different people had drawn the pictures.
A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, first printed the caricatures in September. The newspaper has since apologized to Muslims for the cartoons, one of which shows Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.
Other Western newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted the pictures, asserting their news value and the right to freedom of expression.
Clinton: Muslims wasted opportunity to build better ties with West
In Denmark, a spokesman for Jyllands-Posten declined comment on the bounty offer. But Mogens Blicher Bjerregaard, president of the Danish Journalist Union and spokesman for the cartoonists, condemned it.
"It is totally absurd what is happening. The cartoonists just did their job and they did nothing illegal," he said.
He said the cartoonists — who have been living under police protection since last year — are aware of the reward and are "feeling bad about the whole situation."
Pakistani intelligence officials have said scores of members of radical and militant Islamic groups have incited violence in a bid to undermine President General Pervez Musharraf's government, a close ally of the United States.
In Islamabad, visiting former U.S. President Bill Clinton criticized the cartoons but said Muslims wasted an opportunity to build better ties with the West by holding violent protests.
"I can tell you, most people in the United States deeply respect Islam ... and most people in Europe do," he said.
Denmark, meanwhile, said it had temporarily closed its embassy in Pakistan and urged Danes to leave the country. Last week, Denmark temporarily shut its embassies in Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Indonesia.
Before Friday, a total of 19 people had died in protests over the caricatures, with the deadliest day being February 8, when police in Afghanistan shot and killed four protesters outside the U.S. military base in the southern city of Qalat.