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Muhammad cartoons protesters storm Norway camp in Afghanistan; four killed

[JURIST] Several hundred Afghan protestors demonstrating against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad [JURIST news archive] in Danish, Norwegian and other European papers [JURIST report] stormed a NATO ISAF [official website] peacekeeping base near Maymana [alternatively "Meymaneh"; Wikipedia backgrounder] in northwest Afghanistan manned by Norwegian troops Tuesday. Four protestors were killed and 18 were wounded after the troops opened fire. The Norwegians had previously used tear gas in an unsuccessful attempt to break up the crowd.

The demonstration outside the camp staffed by 33 Norwegian military personnel began peacefully, but protestors began throwing rocks and hand grenades and setting fires. The Norwegians called in F-16 air support to fire warning shots and scare off the demonstrators, but Commander Thom Knustad told the Norwegian Aftenposten newspaper, "This is very dramatic and serious...This is an attack on a NATO base in Afghanistan." Soldiers from Finland are also housed at the base, and early reports say one may have been injured. A NATO spokesman said that "ISAF is operating under difficult circumstances and is exercising the fullest possible restraint. Reinforcements have been sent." An unknown number of British troops have been dispatched to secure the Maymana airfield. UN personnel have been evacuated from the area, which was caught up in the May 2005 rioting over alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo [JURIST report], in which Afghan protestors were also killed. The Norwegian Defense Ministry [official website] is providing rolling updates on the situation [in Norwegian].

Demonstrations against the publication of the cartoons were held in several other places in Afghanistan Tuesday, including Kabul, where the Danish embassy was stoned for the second day in a row. Norway's embassy in Kabul was evacuated Monday night [Aftenposten report] in the wake of disturbances across the country that led to the deaths of several Afghans [JURIST report]. In neighboring Pakistan, a large rally through the streets of Peshawar led by the chief of the North West Frontier province drew some 5000 protestors. Akram Durrani said "Islam is being defamed through such cartoons. It is a terrorist act. Those responsible for publishing such cartoons must be punished under international law." Reuters has more. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei [official website], the Supreme Leader of Iran, meanwhile told Iranian air force personnel [IRNA report] that the publication of the cartoons was a shameful exercise of free expression: "in accordance with this freedom of speech, denial of holocaust has been banned, but sacrilege against the sanctities of 1.5 billion Muslims has been allowed."

9:43 AM ET - The Norwegian Defense Ministry says that British reinforcements have now arrived and five injured Norwegian personnel have been medevaced by helicopter.

12:51 PM ET - Late reports quote Sverre Diesen, chief of Norway's defense forces, as saying that Norwegian troops did not shoot to kill, and fired only tear gas, rubber bullets and warning shots [AP report]. Read a summary of his late-Tuesday press conference [in Norwegian], reporting that the situation in Maymana has stabilzed. Reuters says that the deaths among the protestors resulted from Afghan police fire [Reuters report].

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