Italian Quits Over Cartoons; 15 Die in Nigeria

TURIN, Italy, Feb. 18 - A day after at least 11 people were killed in Libya amid continuing violence over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, an Italian government minister resigned Saturday for wearing a T-shirt printed with the cartoons.
[In Nigeria, Muslims protesting the cartoons attacked Christians and burned churches on Saturday, killing at least 15 people in the deadliest confrontation yet in the whirlwind of Muslim anger over the drawings, The Associated Press reported.]
The protesters in Libya, angry over the minister's T-shirt, had stormed an Italian Consulate in Benghazi on Friday and were fired on by Libyan soldiers. Here in Italy, critics of Roberto Calderoli, the reforms minister who showed off his T-shirt on television earlier this week, blamed him for the violence - and even his own political allies, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, demanded his resignation.
In London, some 10,000 demonstrators marched in what was the largest of several protests there so far. And in India, a politician offered a reward for the deaths of the cartoonists.
[Mobs of Muslim protesters swarm through Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State in northeastern Nigeria, with machetes, sticks and iron rods, The A.P. said. One group threw a tire around a man, poured gas on him and set him ablaze.
[Thousands of rioters burned 15 churches in a three-hour rampage before troops and police reinforcements restored order, said a Nigerian police spokesman, Haz Iwendi. Security forces arrested dozens of people, he said.
[Chima Ezeoke, a Christian Maiduguri resident, said protesters attacked and looted shops owned by minority Christians, most of them with origins in the country's south. Witnesses said three children and a priest were among those killed.
[Nigeria, with a population of more than 130 million, is roughly divided between a predominantly Muslim north and a mainly Christian south.
[Thousands of people have died in that West African country since 2000 in religious violence fueled by the adoption of the strict Islamic legal code by a dozen states in the north, seen by most Christians as a move to impose religious hegemony on non-Muslims.]
The Italian minister, Mr. Calderoli, quit under protest, warning against an Islamic "attack on the West."
"In these last days I expressed in my way solidarity with all those who have been struck by the blind violence of religious fanaticism," he said in a statement that referred to an Italian priest killed this month in Turkey by a Muslim who was reportedly angry over the cartoons. "But it was never my intention to offend the Muslim religion nor to be the pretext for the violence of yesterday," he said.
With the dispute over Mr. Calderoli's shirt, the violence over the cartoons breached Italy's domestic politics. Mr. Calderoli belongs to a far-right party, the Northern League, that is small but influential. It is a key member of Mr. Berlusconi's center-right ruling coalition.
Mr. Berlusconi and the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi discussed the demonstration by telephone, with both agreeing that it should not have "negative repercussions" on their relationship.
In Libya, the riots also claimed a political casualty. Libya's interior minister was suspended for "an excessive use of force" against the protesters there, The Associated Press reported. At least 11 people were killed in violence there on Friday.
In central London, thousands of Muslims from across Britain chanted "Allah-u akbar" ("God is great" in Arabic) and waved placards in protest of the publication of the cartoons in Danish and other European newspapers. The cartoons were shown briefly on the BBC but have not been published by British newspapers.
The protest, which gathered under Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, drew at least 10,000 protesters, the police said, making it the biggest of three demonstrations in London in three weeks. Referring to the cartoons, one demonstrator, Mohamed Abdul Kabir, a 23-year-old psychology student from Accrington in the northwest England, said: "It has gone beyond satire; it has gone to insult. Who defines the line where freedom stops?"
In India, a politician in the nation's largest state has offered an $11 million reward for the killing of any of the Danish cartoonists "who dared to make the caricature of the Prophet," according to Indian news media reports published Saturday. The state government official, Haji Yaqoob Quereshi, made the announcement at a rally in the north Indian town of Meerut after Friday Prayer.
State officials said he would not face charges because he was articulating his personal opinion. Demonstrations have broken out during the past several days in a number of Indian cities with large Muslim populations.
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London for this article, and Somini Sengupta from Goa, India.

·                                 Copyright 2006The New York Times Company


February 19, 2006
Nigerian Militants Assault Oil Industry, Abducting 9 Foreigners
LAGOS, Nigeria, Feb. 18 (Reuters) - Nigerian militants began a string of attacks on the country's oil industry on Saturday, abducting nine foreign workers, bombing a major tanker loading platform and sabotaging two pipelines.
Royal Dutch Shell suspended exports from the 380,000-barrel-a-day Forcados tanker terminal, and shut down the 115,000-barrel-a-day EA oilfield as a precaution. That cut 21 percent of the 2.4 million barrels of daily supply to world markets by Nigeria, the eighth-largest oil exporter.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said the attacks were a response to military air raids in Delta State earlier this week and would be followed by another wave of violence "on a grander scale."
"These hostages are human shields," the militants said, calling on all oil workers to leave the delta. "Subsequent attacks on other installations will be drastic as we have no intentions of taking hostages."
The militants said they wanted more local control over the Niger Delta's vast oil wealth and the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, including a militia leader who is on trial for treason.
In military-style predawn raids, militants in speed boats stormed an offshore barge operated by the American oil services company Willbros and abducted nine workers - three Americans, one Briton, two Thais, two Egyptians and a Filipino.
The rebels caused an explosion and fire on the Forcados loading platform, which delivers crude oil through pipes to large buoys where tankers load. The fire was later extinguished.
They also blew up a major Shell crude oil pipeline nearby, and a natural gas pipeline operated by state-run Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, militant and oil industry sources said.
Shell began to close oil fields feeding the Forcados terminal, as well as the offshore EA field. It had already cut 106,000 barrels a day of output from the Forcados area because of an attack in January.
On Saturday night, a militant source said soldiers in 14 boats with air cover had engaged the militants in a three-hour firefight. Another pipeline, carrying gasoline, exploded in the nearby Escravos area, a security source said.
The militants warned Shell not to try to repair the offshore loading platform.
The United States confirmed that three Americans were among the hostages and called for their unconditional release.
Militants said the attacks had focused on Delta State in response to air raids on Wednesday and Friday. Delta state is on the western side of the Niger Delta and accounts for about a quarter of Nigerian output.
They accused Shell of allowing the military to use an airstrip operated by the company to initiate its attacks, and threatened to attack any aircraft, including civilian planes, using it. The Osubi airport was closed as a precaution, a security source said.
The military said their aerial bombardment this week had been aimed at gangs stealing crude oil from pipelines. But community leaders said the targets were villages suspected of harbouring militants, who had staged a series of attacks on the oil industry in December and January.
Militancy in the delta, a vast region of mangrove swamps and creeks that accounts for almost all of Nigeria's output, is rooted in the extreme poverty of the majority who live there.