Syrians torch Danish, Norwegian embassies in rage over Muhammad caricature

Thousands of Syrians enraged by caricatures of Islam's revered prophet torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies on Saturday the most violent in days of furious protests by Muslims in Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Faced by the spreading violence and international concern, top religious officials in Syria urged calm.

In Gaza, Palestinians marched through the streets, storming European buildings and burning German and Danish flags. Protesters smashed the windows of the German cultural center and threw stones at the European Commission building, police said.

Iraqis rallying by the hundreds demanded an apology from the European Union, and the leader of the Palestinian group Hamas called the cartoons "an unforgivable insult" that merited punishment by death.

Pakistan summoned the envoys of nine Western countries in protest, and even Europeans took to the streets in Denmark and Britain to voice their anger.

At the heart of the protest: 12 caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad first published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten in September and reprinted in European media in the past week. The cartoons have touched a raw nerve in part because Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. Aggravating the affront: one caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse.

Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he cannot apologize for his country's free press. But other European leaders tried Saturday to calm the storm.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel said she understood Muslims were hurt _ though it did not justify violence. "Freedom of the press is one of the great assets as a component of democracy, but we also have the value and asset of freedom of religion," Merkel told an international security conference in Munich, Germany.

The Vatican deplored the violence, but said certain provocative forms of criticism were unacceptable, reports AP.


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