Three killed as unrest against Muhammad cartoons worsens in Afghanistan

International peacekeepers clashed Tuesday with Afghans protesting in a remote northern city against caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, leaving three demonstrators dead and forcing NATO to send in more troops.

Senior Afghan officials said al-Qaida and the Taliban could be exploiting anger over the cartoons to incite violence, which spread to at least six cities in a second day of bloody unrest in Afghanistan.

Demonstrations rumbled on around the Muslim world and the political repercussions deepened, with Iran suspending all trade and economic ties with Denmark, where the drawings were first published in September. Denmark's prime minister called the protests a global crisis and appealed for calm.

In a new turn, a prominent Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, invited artists to enter a Holocaust cartoon competition, saying it wanted to see if freedom of expression the banner under which many Western publications reprinted the prophet drawings also applied to Holocaust images.

The drawings including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb have touched a raw nerve. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry. Media outlets say they have reprinted them sometimes to illustrate stories about the controversy but also, in some cases, to support the principle of free speech.

Violence has escalated sharply in Afghanistan this week, where seven people have died in the past two days. Protests, sometimes involving armed men, have been directed at a slew of foreign and Afghan government targets fueling suspicions that there's more to the unrest than offense to religious sensitivities, reports AP.

O.Ch.