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3 Afghans die during protest over cartoons


KABUL, Afghanistan -- Three Afghan protesters were killed yesterday when a crowd enraged by caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad attacked a NATO military base on the second day of violent demonstrations in Afghanistan.

About 1,000 protesters marched on the NATO base in Maymana, capital of Faryab province, and Norwegian troops fired tear gas to prevent them from entering, said Yousuf Stanizai, a spokesman for the Afghan Interior Ministry.

Someone in the crowd apparently threw grenades, and the blasts killed three demonstrators and injured 18 others, Stanizai said.

"Norwegian troops fired warning shots into the air," said Annie Gibson-Sexton, a spokeswoman for NATO troops in Afghanistan. "They did not fire shots into the crowd."

But Sayed Aslam Ziaratia, the province's deputy police chief, told the Associated Press that the three protesters were shot and killed by Afghan and Norwegian forces.

Meanwhile, Newsday is reporting in today's editions that the Danish editor who first published the editorial cartoons said the furor was deliberately stoked by a group of Danish imams who toured the Middle East with a portfolio that included images never printed in his paper, among them drawings of the Prophet Muhammad having sex with animals.

Flemming Rose, cultural editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, said a group he called "radical imams" traveled to the Middle East several months after his paper's Sept. 30 commentary on self-censorship, which was accompanied by the cartoons of Muhammad, "to stir up the crowds by telling lies."

He said the group carried a 45-page portfolio that contained not only the 12 cartoons published in his newspaper but several more incendiary drawings whose origin was unclear.

Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry.

The protest in Maymana was one of many yesterday by Muslims in the Middle East, Africa and Asia over the cartoons, which were recently reprinted in a number of European newspapers.

The Afghan mob set ablaze a vacant government building next to the military compound and then set fire to several military vehicles before firing rifle shots and lobbing grenades, Gibson-Sexton said.

The United Nations evacuated most of its staff from Maymana after the clashes. British troops in a NATO quick-reaction force flew to the city to help restore order, Gibson-Sexton said.

In Oslo, Norway, military commander Sverre Diesen said one Norwegian soldier was injured by a grenade splinter and another was hurt by a flying rock, the Associated Press reported. Two Finnish soldiers were also hurt, Diesen told reporters.

Two U.S. A-10 anti-tank warplanes were flying to Maymana, and a German C-130 transport plane was on standby to evacuate troops if necessary, Diesen said.

Norwegian and Finnish soldiers in Maymana are on a Provincial Reconstruction Team, a relatively small unit deployed to help build schools and other infrastructure. Gibson-Sexton declined to say how many NATO troops were on the base during the protest.

At least eight Afghans have died in two days of protests.

In Kabul, police clubbed protesters yesterday as a few hundred demonstrators tried to march on the U.S. and Danish embassies. Demonstrators staged angry protests in several other Afghan towns and cities. No serious injuries were reported.

Protests also were reported yesterday in neighboring Pakistan; Srinigar, India; Tehran, Iran; Cairo, Egypt; northern Nigeria and the Philippines. An Iranian newspaper said it would hold a contest for cartoons satirizing the Holocaust. The paper, Hamshahri, said it wanted to test whether the West's definition of freedom of expression extended that far.

Paul Watson and Zulfiqar Ali write for the Los Angeles Times.

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