Row over cartoons boils as Europe leaders urge calm

Muslim protesters burn Danish Flag

Muslim protesters burn Danish Flag

By Kerstin Gehmlich

Fri Feb 3, 2006, PARIS (Reuters) – European leaders called on Friday for restraint as Muslims staged growing protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad they consider blasphemous and more newspapers reprinted the images in the name of press freedom.

Muslim protesters in Indonesia, Turkey and the Palestinian West Bank staged violent demonstrations against the caricatures of the Prophet, one with a turban resembling a bomb.

"I am concerned … about this escalation we have seen over the last few days," said Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the European Union’s presidency.

"From my point of view it is high time to take a step back and make an effort to see things with each other’s eyes and heart. The language or gestures of threats gets us nowhere," she told a news conference in Vienna.

But there was little respite in the fury of Muslims or in a debate over freedom of speech verses respect for religion. For some Muslims depicting the Prophet Mohammad is forbidden.

French President Jacques Chirac, whose country has the largest Muslim population in Europe, appealed for all sides to avoid "anything that could offend others’ convictions."

The Paris-based United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) called for reason and "a calm and enlightened dialogue" between communities with different cultures and religions.


In the name of press freedom, more European newspapers ran controversial cartoons. The Belgian newspaper De Standaard reproduced the pictures along with letters from readers in favour of publication.

The United States condemned the cartoons, siding with Muslims outraged that newspapers put press freedom over respect for religion.

"We … respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable," said State Department spokesman Kurtis Cooper.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it was time for Muslims to put the matter behind them.

"What is important is that the newspaper that initially published the cartoons has apologised, and I would urge my Muslim friends to accept the apology, to accept it in the name of Allah the merciful, and let’s move on," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

He also appealed to all sides in the dispute "not to take any measures that will inflame an already difficult situation."

Newspapers have so far refused to publish the cartoons, earning them praise from Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"I believe the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," he said.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met Muslim envoys to seek calm but said he could not apologise on behalf of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper which first published the images.

"Neither the Danish government nor the Danish nation as such can be held responsible for drawings published in a Danish newspaper," he said after the meeting.

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said the dispute pitted "the whole Islamic world vis-a-vis Denmark and vis-a-vis the trend of Islamophobia."

Up to 300 Islamic activists in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, rampaged in the lobby of a building housing the Danish embassy in Jakarta.

Shouting "Allahu Akbar" (God is Greatest), they smashed lamps with bamboo sticks, threw chairs, lobbed rotten eggs and tomatoes and tore up a Danish flag. No one was hurt.


In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians attended a Hamas-organised rally, tearing up a French flag and holding up banners reading: "The assault on the Prophet is an assault on Islam".

Pakistan’s parliament passed a resolution condemning the cartoons as "blasphemous and derogatory" and said they could not be justified in the name of freedom of the press.

More than 1,000 Moroccans demonstrated peacefully in the capital Rabat against the cartoons, which some said was a Jewish conspiracy designed to sow discord between Muslims and the West.

"Shame on you, Denmark," read one banner. "We’ll never stop boycotting you economically until you apologise."

Danish companies have reported sales falling in the Middle East after protests in the Arab world and calls for boycotts.

Mona Omar Attia, Egypt’s ambassador to Denmark, said after meeting Rasmussen she was satisfied with the position of the Danish government but regretted the prime minister had said he could not interfere with the press.

The editor of a Norwegian magazine which reprinted the Danish cartoons said he had received 25 death threats and thousands of hate messages.

A Jordanian editor was sacked for reprinting them, despite saying his purpose had been to show the extent of the Danish insult to Islam.