At least 10 die in Libya in protests over cartoons
Demonstrators, police clash after Italian consulate set on fire
TRIPOLI, Libya -- Libyans protesting the Prophet Mohammed cartoons set fire yesterday to the Italian consulate in Benghazi, and clashed with police in turmoil that left at least 10 people dead.
Domenico Bellantone, an Italian diplomat, said at least 10 Libyan protesters had been killed and several more wounded as armed police clashed with a crowd of more than 1,000 demonstrators. Libyan officials said there were 11 dead or wounded.
Security officials said the demonstrators hurled stones and bottles at the consulate, entered the grounds, and set fire to the building and a consular car. The extent of the damage to the building was not immediately determined.
Italian consular official Antonio Simoes-Concalves said in Rome that the Libyan police were not initially able to control the crowd, even though they were firing bullets and tear gas. No Italians inside the compound were injured, the Italian Foreign Ministry said. There was no indication why the Italian consulate was targeted.
Italy's ambassador to Libya in Tripoli met late yesterday 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.
Islam widely holds that representations of Mohammed are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.
At least 19 people have been killed in protests over the drawings in the past several weeks, most of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Beirut, angry demonstrators torched the building housing the Danish mission Feb. 6.
In Peshawar, Pakistan, a Pakistani cleric yesterday announced a $1 million bounty for killing a cartoonist who drew the Prophet Mohammed in cartoons that were first published in Denmark, as thousands joined street protests across Pakistan after prayers. Denmark temporarily closed its embassy and advised its citizens to leave Pakistan.
Prayer leader Mohammed Yousaf Qureshi announced the bounty for killing a cartoonist to about 1,000 people outside the Mohabat Khan mosque in Peshawar. He said the mosque and the Jamia Ashrafia religious school he leads would give a $25,000 reward and a car for killing the cartoonist who drew the prophet caricatures, which are considered blasphemous by Muslims. He said a local jewelers' association would give $1 million, but no representative was available to confirm the offer.
''Whoever has done this despicable and shameful act, he has challenged the honor of Muslims. Whoever will kill this cursed man, he will get $1 million from the association of the jewelers bazaar, one million rupees ($16,700) from Masjid Mohabat Khan, and 500,000 rupees ($8,350) and a car from Jamia Ashrafia as a reward," Qureshi said.
''This is a unanimous decision 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 in his announcement and he did not appear aware that 12 people had drawn the pictures.
A Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, first printed the prophet pictures in September. The newspaper has since apologized to Muslims for the cartoons. Other Western newspapers, mostly in Europe, have reprinted the pictures, asserting their news value and the right to freedom of expression.
In Denmark, a spokesman for the Jyllands-Posten said the newspaper did not want to 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.
In a separate development, authorities in Volgograd, Russia, closed a city-owned newspaper after it published a cartoon depicting the leaders of the world's four major religions accompanying an article intended as an appeal against racism. Facing complaints from the United Russia Party and Islamic organizations over the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in the drawing, the city administration ordered the closure of Gorodskiye Vesti and the municipal corporation that publishes it in order to prevent religious hostilities.