US says Syria, Iran stoke cartoons fury; more deaths

WASHINGTON – The United States accused Iran and Syria of deliberately stoking rage among Muslims over cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad, as three people were killed in fresh protests in Afghanistan.

“Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes and the world ought to call them on it,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a news conference. Both countries are at loggerheads with the West. U.S. President George W. Bush urged governments to stop the violence, including attacks on Western diplomatic missions in parts of the Muslim world. The deaths in the Qalat in the southern Afghan province of Zabul brought the number of Afghans killed this week to 10. Police had fired in the air to disperse rock-throwing protesters then fired at demonstrators who tried to attack a nearby U.S. military base, provincial police chief Nasim Mullahkhel said.

“So far, we’ve received three dead bodies and 20 wounded,” said Zahir Shah, a doctor at Qalat’s main hospital. Afghanistan’s top religious council called for an end to the protests. Tens of thousands of Muslims have demonstrated in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the cartoons, first published in Denmark, then Norway and several other countries in Europe and elsewhere.

The caricatures, including one showing the Prophet Mohammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, have unleashed fury among many Muslims who consider any portrayal of their Prophet as blasphemous, let alone one showing him as a terrorist.

Bush told reporters: “I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence. To be respectful. To protect property. To protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas.”