U.S. embassies closing
throughout Arab world

Protests turn violent

Sunday, March 23, 2003

ABU DHABI U.S. embassies in the Arab world are shutting down amid violent demonstrations in support of Iraq.

Anti-U.S. riots were reported in such capitals as Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; and Sanaa, Yemen. In the Bahraini capital, pro-Iraqi demonstrators torched a police car after the officers inside fled. Bahraini riot police responded by firing tear gas at demonstrators. Several people were injured.

The embassies and consulates in Bahrain, and Yemen have already closed down indefinitely, U.S. officials said. The embassy in Riyad, Saudi Arabia closed over the weekend but reopened Sunday.

The violence began on Friday after Islamic preachers used their sermons to condemn the U.S.-led war against Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Soon, tens thousands of Arabs took to the streets in clashes with security forces throughout major cities in the Middle East.

Diplomatic sources said the move comes in wake of an assessment that U.S. embassies and consulates have served as a lightning rod for Arab protests. So far, they said, Arab security forces have succeeded in protecting U.S. embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East.

Several of the embassies, including that in the Saudi capital of Riyad, could be closed for the duration of the U.S.-led war against Iraq, the sources said. This would mean the suspension of consular services.

"Whoever defends the Iraqi people and himself and dies, will be considered a martyr," Sheik Mohammed Tantawi, Egypt's leading Muslim cleric, said. "Islamic law says we must defend the Iraqi people and stand by them. If we fail, we have wasted the trust that God has placed in us."

In Sanaa, two people were shot dead as 3,000 people tried to march on the U.S. embassy. In Cairo, thousands of protesters clashed with police after mosque prayers.

In Beirut, Lebanese police employed tear gas and a water cannon to stop hundreds of stone-throwers. Several people were injured.

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