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Last Updated: Saturday, 4 February 2006, 23:27 GMT
Embassies burn in cartoon protest
Syrian protesters

Syrians have set fire to the Norwegian and Danish embassies in Damascus in protest at the publication of newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Protesters scaled the Danish site amid chants of "God is great", before moving on to attack the Norwegian mission.

Denmark and Norway condemned Syria for failing its international obligations and urged their citizens to leave.

The cartoons have sparked Muslim outrage across the world, following their publication in a Danish paper.

One depicts Muhammad as a terrorist. Any images of the Prophet are banned under Islamic tradition.

However, several European papers reprinted the cartoons, citing free speech.

The publications have prompted diplomatic sanctions, boycotts and death threats in some Arab nations.

In other developments:

  • Palestinians protest in Gaza and the West Bank, as other demonstrators gather at the Danish embassy in London
  • Two Jordanian editors who published the cartoons have been arrested
  • Iran says it should consider abandoning commercial and trade deals with countries where the cartoons have appeared
  • The Vatican says the right to freedom of expression does not imply the right to offend religious beliefs.

'We defend you'

Syrians have been staging sit-ins outside the Danish embassy since the row intensified earlier this week, when Damascus recalled its ambassador.

30 Sept: Danish paper publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM
10 Jan: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office demanding apology
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons

On Saturday, hundreds hurled stones and stormed the Danish site, before moving to the Norwegian embassy.

"With our blood and souls we defend you, O Prophet of God," they chanted outside the Danish building, which also houses the Swedish and Chilean missions.

Some removed the Danish flag and replaced it with another reading: "There is no god but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God."

The embassy was closed, and no diplomats were reported to have been injured in either attack.

Outside the Norwegian embassy, police fired tear gas to try to disperse the protesters, but some broke in and set it ablaze.

Demonstrators also tried to storm the French mission, but were stopped.

Danish 'distress'

In Copenhagen, the government called on its nationals to leave Syria at once.

On Friday, the Danish prime minister made a new bid to calm anger, by explaining his position over the publication to Muslim ambassadors.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he could never apologise for a newspaper's actions, but said he was "distressed" at offence caused.

The cartoons originated in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten paper and have been reprinted in newspapers in France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the Netherlands and Spain - who say they were exercising their right to free speech.

Jyllands-Posten has apologised for causing offence to Muslims, although it maintains it was legal under Danish law to print the cartoons.

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