- Protests against the printing of caricatures of Prophet Mohammed have now spread to sub-Saharan Africa, with burning of Danish flags in Niger and Nigeria and one death during protests in Somalia. Peaceful and controlled protest marches have also taken place in Kenya and Mali, while in other West African countries, expressions of protests have stuck to the format of public debate.
The most violent protests against the cartoons so far have been in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Iran, where Danish, Norwegian and European Union (EU) diplomatic representations have been attacked. In North Africa, on the other hand, only Egypt has witnessed large but peaceful demonstrations.
This weekend, the first public reactions to the caricatures came in sub-Saharan Africa. In Mali's capital, Bamako, a peaceful manifestation was organised on Saturday, where participants expressed they demand of not insulting Islam. In Kenya, the Danish Embassy managed to calm down potential demonstrators by pointing out that both the Copenhagen government and the newspaper 'Jyllands-Posten' had apologised.
The first violent protests in Africa broke out in three Somali towns yesterday. Especially in Bosaso, the capital of the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, the situation got out of hand as mostly children and youths started throwing stones at police officers trying to control the angry crowd. A 14-year-old boy was shot dead by the police. Nine other persons were reportedly wounded.
In Niamey, the capital of Niger, the largest protest march against the cartoons in Africa so far was witnessed today, when an estimated 50 to 100,000 Muslims took to the streets. The peaceful demonstration was headed by most of the country's most prominent Muslim leaders, who "strongly condemned" what they called "provocations against Islam."
The large demonstration in Niamey, which had been authorised by the Nigerien government, seemed well organised and represented a rather non-radical expression of viewpoints. Only a small group of protesters left the main march, heading for the Niamey parliament while shouting anti-Western slogans. Lawmakers were urged to break diplomatic ties with Denmark and other countries where the caricatures have been published.
The situation could become more uncontrolled in northern Nigeria as protests today are spreading in this religiously polarised region. Christian leaders in Nigeria wisely have strongly denounced the Mohammed cartoons, showing their solidarity with the dominant Muslim society in northern Nigeria. Many local Christians have also participated in the demonstrations organised today.
The most radicalised protests were organised today in the northern Nigerian state of Kano, where around 40 representatives of the state assembly participated in the burning of Danish flags and promised to further a boycott of Danish products. The Kano parliament was now to cancel several multi-million dollar contract with Danish companies, it was announced. Radical anti-Western slogans were shouted.
There are now fears that the round of violent and radical manifestations in sub-Saharan Africa will only escalate. In particular on Friday, the holy day of Muslims, a large number of protest marches and other actions may be initiated. In particular in Nigeria and Kenya, destructive protests may occur.
The Supreme Council of Kenyan Muslims has decided that the partial apology from 'Jyllands-Posten' and the Danish government is not enough and that the drawers and publishers of the cartoons must be punished. Secretary-General Adan Wachu of the Council is preparing for countrywide protests on Friday and warns that Muslims will punish those responsible. Similar calls have been made in northern Nigeria.
While protests are spreading throughout Muslim Africa, Scandinavian governments and diplomats are doing their best to explain that the caricatures - which very few have seen - were not as ill-natured as the rumour has it, that editors and governments have apologised and that governments cannot hinder the national press from publishing these cartoons. Mostly, their efforts come too late.
Others have come to the defense of Denmark and Norway. The Muslim Council of Norway strongly backs the Oslo government and is using its contacts among Muslim leaders in the Middle East to try to stop actions against Norway. Also Danish Muslim leaders and many Muslim clerics in the Middle East are now calling for calm. UN Secretary-General has urged all Muslims to accept the apology given by the Danish newspaper and act in the "true spirit of a religion famed for its values of mercy and compassion," and put this episode behind them.
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