Lebanon minister quits over riot



Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh resigned after demonstrators set fire to Beirut's Danish embassy on Saturday.

On Friday, mobs in Syria torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus in a row over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammed.

"A few minutes ago I put my resignation at the disposal of the cabinet. I didn't wait for an answer and left the meeting," Mr Sabeh said.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller has called for calm.

"It is a critical situation and it is very serious," he told Danish public radio.

'Black day'
Danes living in Lebanon have been told to leave the country or stay indoors.

Mr Sabeh said 1,200 security men and 1,600 army troops had been called in to prevent peaceful protests turning violent on Saturday.

"But things got out of hand when elements that had infiltrated into the ranks of the demonstrators broke through security shields," Mr Sabeh said.

"The one remaining option was an order to shoot, but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens," he added.

The violence has been condemned by political leaders across the country, says the BBC's correspondent Jim Muir.

Some politicians claimed the violence could have been promoted by Syrian Muslim groups.

Lebanon's leading Sunni politician Saad Hariri, said the violence was a "black day" for Lebanon's Muslims.

Denmark urged its citizens to leave Lebanon as soon as possible.

The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September and caused outrage among Muslims, who consider any images of Muhammad offensive.

One of the cartoons shows Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.

Newspapers across Europe republished the pictures in recent days, saying they are defending freedom of expression.

'Respect our religion'
Huge crowds attended Sunday's protest in the Christian neighbourhood where the Danish embassy is located.

The protest started out peacefully, but turned violent after Islamic extremists tried to break though security barriers protecting the building.

"We have a right to defend our prophet," one protester told the BBC.

"They should have respected our religion," said another.

Some 2,000 riot police and army troops fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd and fired their weapons into the air.

But smoke was later seen rising from the building, which also houses commercial offices, after demonstrators broke into it.

The building was believed to be unoccupied at the time.

Some protesters threw stones at the security forces and burned Danish flags. A nearby church and other property in the neighbourhood were also attacked.

Muslim clerics had spoken out against the protests

Security officials said at least 18 people were injured, AP news agency reported. The government said several dozen Lebanese and Syrians had been arrested.

Inexcusable' actions
Some Muslim clerics helped to persuade the crowd to disperse as the violence died down, the BBC's Jim Muir reports from the scene.

Lebanon's most prominent Sunni leader, Saad al-Hariri, vowed to track down and prosecute those involved in the attacks.

"We tell our Christian brothers that any stone thrown against a house or a car was an insult to Muslims," he said from Paris.

Denmark and Norway have condemned Syria for failing to stop Saturday's attacks in Damascus and urged their citizens to leave the country.

The US has also criticised Syria's approach, saying it was "inexcusable" for such damage to be inflicted on diplomatic missions.