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Hezbollah Leader Says Rice, Bush Should 'Shut Up,' Cartoon Protests to Continue Until Apology
The Associated Press (apwire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-02-10 16:14 (KST)   
By SAM F. GHATTAS
Associated Press Writer
BEIRUT, Lebanon
The leader of Hezbollah, heading a march by hundreds of thousands of Shiite Muslims on Thursday, said U.S. President George W. Bush and his secretary of state should "shut up" after they accused Syria and Iran of fueling protests over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Sheik Hassan Nasrallah urged Muslims worldwide to continue demonstrations until there is an apology over the drawings and Europe passes laws forbidding insults to the prophet.

Denmark, where the cartoons were first published, said Thursday it had temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Beirut after rioters set fire to the building in which it stands on Sunday.

In a statement in Copenhagen, the Foreign Ministry said all Danish diplomats had left Lebanon for fear of further violence. It did not say when they would return to reopen the mission, which survived the fire intact.

Whipping up the crowd marking the Shiite festival of Ashoura, Nasrallah declared: "Defending the prophet should continue all over the world. Let Condoleezza Rice and Bush and all the tyrants shut up. We are an Islamic nation that cannot tolerate, be silent or be lax when they insult our prophet and sanctities."

"We will uphold the messenger of God not only by our voices but also by our blood," he told the crowds, estimated by organizers at about 700,000. Police officers had no final estimates but put the figure at even higher.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller appealed on Lebanon's Al Hayat-LBC satellite TV for the Arab world to try to defuse the issue, not inflame it.

"You were shocked by these drawings. We were shocked by the attacks on our embassies. Let us now stop the violence, the misunderstanding and the deception," he said in comments that were translated into Arabic by the station.

Moeller appealed to Arabs to "build bridges and respect differences."

"We want to avoid a clash between civilizations because what is happening today on the street is not beneficial for you or for us," he said.

President Bush spoke about the cartoon controversy for the first time on Wednesday, urging foreign leaders to halt the spreading violence and to protect diplomats in besieged embassies. Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, said Iran and Syria "have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it."

Iran has rejected the U.S. accusations, but there was no official comment from Damascus.

Embassies have been attacked in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Riots broke out in Afghanistan and protests have spread to many places in the world over the cartoons that Muslims deemed insulting to their prophet, first published by a Danish newspaper in September and then reprinted by other publications stressing freedom of expression. Militant groups have taken advantage of the controversy to whip up Muslim sentiment that the West is deliberately targeting Islam.

Hezbollah, an organization that earned wide Arab and Islamic prominence for fighting a guerrilla war against Israel in southern Lebanon, is on the U.S. list of terrorist groups for past attacks against American and other Western targets and its opposition to peace with Israel.

In Thursday's Hezbollah-organized march in south Beirut, huge numbers of black-clad Shiites beat their chests to mourn Hussein, the saint and grandson of Muhammad, who was killed by rivals in a battle in 680 A.D.. Self-flagellation is traditional at Ashoura, but this year the slogan "Here I Am At Your Service Muhammad" was added to protest the cartoons.

On Sunday, rioters in a Sunni protest set fire to the building housing the Danish mission and rampaged through a Christian neighborhood several kilometers away.

Nasrallah, a black-turbaned, bearded cleric, demanded an apology for the cartoons and laws to prevent a repetition of what happened with the cartoons, saying while there are efforts to settle the crisis with Denmark, other newspapers in other countries in Europe are publishing the cartoons.

"There can be no settlement before an apology and there can be no settlement before laws are legislated by the European Parliament and the parliaments of European countries," he said.

But Foreign Minister Moeller reiterated Thursday that Denmark's government "cannot apologize for something it did not do."

In the interview with Al Hayat-LBC TV, he said it was up to Danish courts, not the government, to decide whether a publication had broken the law.

Nasrallah said the caricatures amounted to a campaign against Islam, and that Islamic nations should demand "a law in the West committing the press and the media to prohibit insults to our prophet. If this matter cannot be achieved, that means they (West) insist on continuing this war," he added.

Nasrallah said that if the controversy touched on Jews or Israel the West would have reacted differently and quickly.

"Is the Islamic world less important that a bunch of Zionists? We cannot acquiesce to this."

Reflecting the diversity of Lebanon, the Shiites' Ashoura _ which follows a lunar calendar _ fell this year on the same day Maronite Catholics celebrated a holiday commemorating Maroun, founder of the church that the majority of Lebanon's Christians follow.

A Mass was said in the presence of president and prime minister at the same Beirut church that was targeted by Muslim extremists during Sunday's protests in the same neighborhood where the Danish mission is located.

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©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter The Associated Press

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