The UN, EU and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) have urged restraint and dialogue as worldwide Muslim fury against Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed claimed four lives in Afghanistan.
Protests in Afghanistan turned deadly this week
Muslim anger over the controversial caricatures turned ugly in Afghanistan on Wednesday as four people were killed when police opened fire to control stone-throwing rioters in Afghanistan during a fifth day of protests against cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the army said.
A number of people were also wounded in the protests in Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, including the city's police chief, Abdul Razaq, the Afghan National Army brigade commander in Zabul.
The shootings occurred when a mob attacked offices of Norway's NATO troops in Afghanistan. Up to 700 demonstrators rampaged through the northern Afghan city of Maymana Tuesday, throwing stones at a UN office and a compound of a reconstruction project led by Norwegian troops.
The United Nations, European Union and the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC) have expressed deep concern at the escalation of violence.
The Danish embassy in Syria was set afire by angry demonstrators
"We are deeply alarmed at the repercussions of the publication in Denmark several months ago of insulting caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed and their subsequent republication by some other European newspapers, and at the violent acts that have occurred in reaction to them," representatives of the three organizations said in a joint statement.
"We fully uphold the right of free speech. But we understand the deep hurt and widespread indignation felt in the Muslim world," said the statement signed by UN Chief Kofi Annan, EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana and OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
"We believe freedom of the press entails responsibility and discretion and should respect the beliefs and tenets of all religions," it added.
The statement, however, also stressed that "the recent violent acts surpass the limits of peaceful protest," and specifically condemned "the deplorable attacks on diplomatic missions that have occurred in Damascus, Beirut and elsewhere."
It called on authorities of all countries to "protect all diplomatic premises and foreign citizens against unlawful attack."
"These events make the need for renewed dialogue, among and between communities of different faiths and authorities of different countries, all the more urgent," the statement said.
US lends support to besieged Denmark
Meanwhile US President George W. Bush on Tuesday assured Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of his "support and solidarity" over violence sparked by caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, the White House said.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac had previously called Rasmussen after the attacks on Danish missions, raising spirits in Copenhagen which had been feeling rather isolated.
Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen has been under immense pressure
"The president expressed support and solidarity with Denmark in the aftermath of the violence against the Danish and other diplomatic facilities," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
"Obviously this support from major countries lifts some of the pressure and soothes us, especially when it comes from the Americans and British, who slightly disappointed us earlier by their criticism and lack of solidarity," said one Danish diplomat.
Meanwhile, the European Union slammed Iran's decision to suspend trade with Denmark, and said it was studying a response.
Elsewhere in the Muslim world, there were few signs of the violence abating.
Iranian demonstrators briefly stormed the Danish embassy in Tehran Tuesday and stoned the Norwegian mission.
In the Pakistani city of Peshawar nearly 3,000 people on Tuesday attended a rally called by the Islamist government of North West Frontier Province, shouting "Hang the cartoonists!"
Demonstrators in Dhaka burned a flag during a protest organized by the Jamaat-e-Islami, the second largest party in Bangladesh's four-party coalition government.
The cartoons were "the straw that broke the camel's back" among Muslims, the Palestinian Authority's envoy to the EU said.
Many Muslims were pushed "to the limit" by the drawings, which had to be seen against an "Islamophobe context," said Leila Shahid.
"If the same story had happened 20 years ago, there would not have been 300 people in the street in the whole world," she told a debate in Brussels. "But we are faced with Islamophobe language worldwide. It is the straw which broke the camel's back," she said.
German FM says Muslim anger exploited
But German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the controversy might have been exploited to incite unrest in Muslim countries, including Iran.
Danish flags have been burnt symbolically in several countries
"In the last few days I have had the impression that in many Arab countries the cartoon controversy is being used as means to rouse emotions," Steinmeier told reporters.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency, called for a dialogue with Islamic countries to stop the violence.
She asked EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to meet in Jeddah with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which groups 57 Islamic countries, to discuss ways to end the tension.