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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 17:34 GMT
Four die in Afghan cartoon riot
Cartoon protesters in Kabul
There have been angry scenes in the Afghan capital, Kabul
At least four people have been killed and up to 20 injured in a violent protest in Afghanistan over cartoons satirising the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

Police shot into a crowd of rioters in the town of Qalat as they tried to march on a nearby US military base.

It brings to 12 the number of people killed in Afghan protests over the cartoons in recent days.

Afghanistan's top religious body is urging an end to the rioting, saying the cartoons do not justify violence.

"We condemn violence anywhere. If a non-Muslim country has mistaken or insulted Islam we should talk to them peacefully," Ulema Council member Mawli Osmani Haqtalab told the BBC.

'Provocation'

The latest deaths came as a French magazine became the latest publication to carry the controversial caricatures.

The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, won the backing of a French court on Tuesday, after several Islamic organisations had complained that publication would amount to an insult to their religion.

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
5 Feb: Protesters set alight Danish embassy in Beirut
6-7 Feb: At least eight killed in Afghanistan as security forces try to suppress violent protests

The magazine features all 12 cartoons of Muhammad that originally appeared in a Danish paper last year - including one that shows Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban.

Religions other than Islam are caricatured as well.

Several religious groups had tried to block the cartoons' publication, but the injunction failed on a technicality.

French President Jacques Chirac criticised newspapers for reprinting the caricatures, saying freedom of expression must be used responsibly.

"I condemn all manifest provocation that might dangerously fan passions," he told his cabinet, according to a government spokesman.

The president of the French Muslim Council has appealed for calm and warned people not to be provoked, but several of the magazine's managers have been given police protection as a precaution.

The BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris says the newsagents he visited had the magazine discreetly turned face down.

In other developments:

  • Thousands demonstrate in Pakistan's Dara Adam Khel tribal region, bordering Afghanistan

  • Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen tells the BBC Danes are upset and worried by the deepening crisis, but must stand together

  • Several hundred people march in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, but are blocked by police

  • About 300 Palestinian protesters attack an international observers' mission in the West Bank town of Hebron, throwing rocks and bottles and trying to torch one of its buildings

  • The United Nations, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference and the European Union issue a joint statement calling for restraint from all sides

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Afghanistan's top council of Muslim clerics made its call for peace as violence raged in the southern town of Qalat.

At least 400 people joined the latest protest, some of them burning vehicles and hurling stones at police who tried to block their way to a US military base, local police chief Abdul Bari said.

Police initially responded by firing into the air, but were forced to then fire into the crowd, Mr Bari said.

As well as demonstrators injured by gunfire, a number of Afghan soldiers and police were hurt by flying stones.

The police chief of Zabul province, Nasim Mullah Khel, told the BBC the demonstration had turned violent at the instigation of foreign construction workers from Pakistan and that some of the demonstrators had weapons.

However, one demonstrator told the BBC the group had been unarmed.




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