Beirut- Lebanon apologized to Denmark on Monday for the burning of its consulate during a protest over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, and some Lebanese politicians accused Syria of using the furor to stir sectarian tension.
Sunday's riot in Beirut and similar attacks on Danish and Norwegian missions in Damascus were among the worst seen in a worldwide Muslim uproar over the cartoons, first published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in some other European papers.
"The cabinet denounces the riots and the targeting of the Danish Embassy which harms the image of a civilized Lebanon," the government said in a statement after a late-night emergency meeting. "(We) present our apology to the state of Denmark."
Lebanese Christians also expressed anger over the riots by Muslim protesters in the Christian Ashrafiyeh district, during which a church ( Mar Maroun in Gemayzeh), cars and shops were also vandalized.
Several Lebanese politicians, including Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and Christian leader Samir Geagea, blamed the rioting on pro-Syrian saboteurs they said had infiltrated the protest.
Security sources said more than 300 people had now been arrested, more than half of them were Syrians and Palestinians. Most of the Palestinians belonged to the PFLP-GC ( Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine, general Command) which is based in Damascus, but has bases in the Bekaa region and Al Naameh, south of Beirut.
"The Syrians are trying to say that the Lebanese are not capable of ruling themselves," Geagea and Jumblatt said.
Syria ended three decades of military presence in Lebanon in April after an international and Lebanese outcry over the Feb. 14 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Many Lebanese blame Damascus for the bomb that killed Hariri and later blasts and assassinations. Damascus denies any role.
Interior Minister Hassan al-Sabaa resigned hours after Sunday's rioting. The government, dominated by ministers from an anti-Syrian coalition, ordered a full investigation, but stopped short of openly accusing Damascus of having a hand in it. But several ministers have called on the government to file a complaint against Syria before the U.N. Security Council for its alleged involvement in Sunday's riots .
Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad said the complaint should state that Syria was interfering in Lebanese affairs with great impunity and instigating civil strife.
Her request was raised during an emergency cabinet session held Sunday night after police said that the majority of those arrested for ransacking the streets of Ashrafiyeh and Gemmayzeh turned out to be Syrians.
"This is an organized attempt to take advantage of Muslim anger for purposes that do not serve the interests of Muslims and Lebanon, but those of others beyond the border," Mouawad said.
Today, The United States also accused the Syrian government of backing violent protests in Lebanon and Syria and condemned the attacks on the diplomatic missions of Denmark and Norway.
"If you think about Syria, what kind of state Syria is, how much freedom of expression there is in Syria and the ability to mobilize mass movements, that doesn't just happen by accident," US deputy secretary for European affairs, Kurt Volker told reporters.
"There has to be some kind of acceptance by the state to let that kind of demonstration to go ahead. We hold Syria responsible for that," he added.
Volker said the Beirut riots, that came one day after the Damascus unrest, were instigated by foreign powers. "If you look at the demonstrations in Lebanon, I think there are external forces at work."
CHRISTIAN ANGER, FEAR
Angry Christians said the riots inflamed sectarian tensions and rekindled memories of the country's 1975-1990 civil war.
"Those who did this were not defending Prophet Mohammad. They don't care about Prophet Mohammad or Jesus Christ," George Zaytouneh, 58, told Reuters near the charred consulate building.
Avdes Kazazian, a 45-year-old driver, said the destruction brought back unwanted civil war memories. "I am afraid tension between Muslims and Christians may escalate. It looks like things are heading in this direction," he added.
Security forces used tear gas and water cannons on Sunday to try to disperse about 20,000 demonstrators, who in turn damaged police and army vehicles and three fire engines.
One protester died after jumping from the third floor of the blazing consulate building. Police said 33 people, including 21 security men, were wounded.
Danish consulate staff had left Lebanon a day earlier.
Scores of Danes and Norwegians left Damascus on Sunday in response from a request from their governments. In Lebanon there appeared to be little response to a similar request from Copenhagen. It was not clear how many Danes live in Lebanon.
Lebanese Muslim and Christian politicians and religious leaders urged restraint. Muslim leaders condemned the stoning of the church. Newspapers also sought to calm sectarian tension.
"The Lebanese nation defeats strife in Ashrafiyeh," read the front-page headline of the As-Safir daily.
Picture: PM Siniora with Danish Charge de Affairs
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Sources: Ya Libnan, Reuters, Naharnet