Danes and Norwegians Flee Middle East as Embassies Burn | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 05.02.2006
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Danes and Norwegians Flee Middle East as Embassies Burn

Denmark and Norway said Sunday its nationals had begun to leave Syria after protesters torched their embassies in the country as tensions rose over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

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The Danish Embassy in Damascus burns as the cartoon protests escalate

Danes were also told to leave Lebanon, and Norwegians were advised to remain indoors, after protesters there attacked the Danish consulate.

"About 70 Danes live in Syria. Some left last (Saturday) night, others this morning," Danish foreign ministry spokesman Lars Thuesen told AFP Sunday.

Those who had not yet left were advised to stay indoors "until we have found a way to get them out of there", he said.

The Danish government is not currently providing transport for those wanting to leave, but has otherwise offered all the assistance it could, he said.

Thuesen said some Danes were reluctant to leave Syria as the situation appeared to calm down somewhat Sunday, but the foreign ministry insisted that "the situation is still critical for Danes there. Those who opt to stay must be very careful."

Countries working to get citizens out safely

Aufruhr wegen einer Karikatur

The worsening situation has forced some countries to call evacuations.

Denmark and Norway told their nationals to evacuate Syria after attacks on their respective embassies by demonstrators on Saturday in protest at the publication in both countries of the cartoons.

"We have been working all night to contact our people and get them out" of Syria, Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Oeystein Boe told AFP.

Of up to 90 Norwegian nationals in Syria, 12 will leave Damascus for Oslo via Vienna on Sunday, while 26 Norwegian families have opted to stay in Syria for now, he said.

Norway's ambassador, who was in Jerusalem at the time of Saturday's attacks, has returned to Damascus, and embassy staff were operating from a hotel in the Syrian capital.

Scandinavian embassies brace for more violence

Following the violent protest in Syria and further attacks in Lebanon, where the Danish embassy was set ablaze Sunday, Norway told all its embassies in Muslim countries to tighten security.

"We have sent out a precaution order to embassies in the Middle East and other countries with a large Muslim part of the population to review their security contingency plans, to get in touch with the authorities and ask for extended security," Boe said.

Norway also told its nationals living in Lebanon to remain indoors.

Steinmeier calls for "sensitive" use of freedom of speech

Germany condemned the attacks on but called for sensitivity and understanding of different cultures.

Proteste gegen Karikaturen halten an

The Danish Embassy in Ankara prepares for a Turkish backlash.

"We view this development with the greatest concern," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told policymakers at a high-level security conference in Munich.

"We do not yet have a war of cultures, but we are further apart from the dialogue that we hoped for."

However Steinmeier said there was never an excuse for violence.

"We can imagine that Muslims feel hurt and offended by the cartoons, but in no way does this justify calls for violence or attacks on European institutions or citizens."

Freedom of the press and speech is an "immovable" condition for democracy, Steinmeier said, but he warned that it must be used sensitively when it concerned other cultures and religions.

"Those who enjoy the right of free speech and freedom must exercise that right carefully."

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