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Last Updated: Monday, 6 February 2006, 12:39 GMT
Lebanon 'regrets' embassy attack
Wreckage of Danish embassy
Embassy employees survey came to survey the damage
The Lebanese government has apologised to Denmark after protesters ransacked its Beirut embassy, plunging troubled Lebanon into fresh political turmoil.

The mission was attacked on Sunday by Muslims angry at cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish paper.

The interior minister quit after the attack and the commander of the army has offered to step down.

The Beirut government has condemned the cartoons, but also denounced the violence in which one person died.

"The riots harmed Lebanon's reputation and its civilised image and the noble aim of the demonstration. The cabinet apologises to Denmark," said Information Minister Ghazi Aridi.

Things got out of hand... but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens
Interior Minister Hassan Sabei
Correspondents say violence took on a sectarian dimension as Muslim extremists took over the streets in Ashrafieh, the Christian neighbourhood where the mission is located, and went on a three-hour rampage, wrecking property.

Muslim clerics had spoken out against the protests. The police have been criticised for failing to exert control.

"Things got out of hand... but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens," outgoing Interior Minister Hassan Sabei told reporters.

The cartoons have sparked protests, some of them violent, throughout the Muslim world.

Investigation

The Lebanese cabinet met in emergency session for four hours on Sunday night.

It did not formally accept Mr Sabei's resignation, but "took note of it", and appointed his deputy to run the ministry for the time being.

CARTOON ROW
30 Sept 2005: Danish paper publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM
10 Jan 2006: 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
4 Feb: Syrians attack Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus

It said there would be a comprehensive investigation into the violence, including into what it called the role of outside intelligence agencies.

A BBC correspondent in Beirut says this is a thinly veiled reference to the widespread accusations that neighbouring Syria, through its links with fundamentalist Sunni groups, orchestrated the violence.

The accusations were made by anti-Syrian politicians who head the government in Lebanon, and have been echoed by the United States.

On Saturday, the Danish and Norwegian embassies were torched during similar protests against the cartoons in Damascus.

"If you think about Syria, what kind of state Syria is, how much freedom of expression there is in Syria and the ability to mobilise mass movements, that doesn't just happen by accident," said US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Volker.

One person died in the unrest in Beirut, a protester who apparently got caught up in the fire raging through the Danish embassy and jumped from an upper storey window.

Security forces arrested 174 protesters, including 76 Syrians, officials said.




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