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 Thursday, February 16, 2006

Cartoon Crisis: Western Businesses Burn in Pakistan Riots

  Read here full article by Declan Walsh in The Guardian UK

Seventy-thousand demonstrators surged through the Pakistani city of Peshawar, ransacking western-linked businesses yesterday, as violence again flared over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Rioters torched a KFC restaurant, a Norwegian phone office, banks and cinemas in the third day of violence in the north-western city and Pakistan's largest protest yet.

Two people died, including an eight-year-old boy hit by a stray bullet.

The government deployed troops and ordered the closure of all schools in the area for a week.

There was further upheaval in Lahore where a 30-year-old man was shot dead during clashes with police.

Volence is gathering momentum in Pakistan, the world's second-most populous Muslim nation, after a fortnight of mostly peaceful protests.

Officials believe the trouble is being spurred by radical groups ahead of a visit by George Bush next month.

The Pakistani protests highlight how the cartoon crisis has become a lightning rod for broader anti-western sentiment.

Anti-US sentiment has risen sharply across Pakistan since a US Predator drone bombed a tribal village last month, missing its target, the al-Qaida No 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri, but killing 13 villagers.

Many Pakistanis are also unhappy with the pro-American alliance of President General Pervez Musharraf.

In Peshawar rioters chanted "Down with America" and "Death to Bush".

Food chains such as McDonald's, Pizza Hut and KFC were targeted there and in Lahore.

The wave of violence also washed over Tank, a town near the Afghan border, where an estimated 2,000 people set fire to shops selling CDs, DVDs and videos. Militants had warned the shops to close, saying music and videos were against Islam.

North-West Frontier province is governed by the MMA coalition of conservative religious parties, some with links to the Taliban. Despite the violence it has refused to ban the rallies. Tariq Ahmed Khan of the Pakistan Human Rights Commission criticised the government for failing to take a more robust stance. "If they had mobilised the army this could have been stopped in its tracks," he said.

Protests against Danish cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad have subsided across most of Asia and the Middle East.

Malaysia shut down a Chinese-language newspaper for two weeks for publishing a photo that contained one of the offending cartoons, which Muslims view as an affront to their faith.

In the Philippines capital, Manila, hundreds of demonstrators burned Danish flags outside the Danish consulate. w

Indonesia's trade association announced a boycott of its products.

The opean Commission president José Manuel Barroso spoke out in defence of the Danes, calling them "a people who rightly enjoy the reputation as being among the most open and tolerant in the world".

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