Row over Danish anti-Islam cartoons intensifies
2 February 2006
Controversy over the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed widened further Thursday, turning what was initially a problem for Denmark into a row of international dimensions when the leaders of two Islamic countries joined in the condemnation.
At the same time, Europe in general and France in particular became the target of increasing Muslim wrath after a French newspaper republished the 12 cartoons which had originally appeared in Denmark and later in Norway.
Germany’s Die Welt, Italy’s La Stampa and Spain’s El Periodico also republished the caricatures as a further storm of protest was expected across the Muslim world at Friday prayers.
While Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s government was bracing for further protests and planning an offensive to try to defuse the tensions, Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak and Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly criticized the cartoons.
In further measures aimed at defusing the situation, Rasmussen was due to repeat his position on freedom of speech and religion in an interview with al-Arabiya television Thursday evening.
Along with Foreign Minister Per Stig Moller, Rasmussen has invited foreign ambassadors, including from Muslim countries, to a meeting Friday to inform them about Copenhagen government’s view.
“The Danish people have defended freedom of speech and religion for generations. We deeply respect all religions, including Islam,” Rasmussen said, according to an excerpt from the 25-minute interview with al-Arabiya television cited by Danish TV2 News.
In Norway, the chief editor of a Norwegian Christian weekly that recently published the caricatures said in an interview published Thursday that he regretted the publication.
“Of course I regret that we have subjected Norwegian citizens to threats, as well as myself and my family,” Magazinet chief editor Vebjorn Selbekk told Dagbladet newspaper. “On the other hand, I don’t regret exercising my constitutionally protected freedom of speech.”
Norway’s Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen also apologized during a visit to Lebanon Thursday. “We understand that Muslims found the caricature of the Prophet Mohammed atrocious and we apologize,” Johansen said in Beirut.
But the principle of freedom of speech was targeted by Egypt’s Mubarak, who was quoted Thursday as saying that freedom of speech must not be used as an excuse to insult religious beliefs.
His views were echoed by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who condemned the cartoons as an attack on the spiritual and moral values of Muslims and said during a meeting with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy in Ankara that the freedom of the press must have limits, Turkey’s Andalou news agency reported.
In Kabul, Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the French newspaper France Soir for printing the Mohammed cartoons.
Any insult to the prophet was an insult to the world’s billion- plus Muslims, Karzai said, while welcoming the firing of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Jacques Lefranc, by the paper’s owner on Wednesday over the publication of the cartoons.
In other developments, Denmark’s ambassador to France, Niels Egelund, visited Paris’ central mosque on Thursday in what a French Muslim leader called a gesture of “appeasement” in the controversy.
“I thank the ambassador for having made this gesture, which was meant as an act of appeasement,” the head of the French Council of Muslims, Dalil Boubakeur, said after receiving Egelund at the mosque.
In Syria, parliament denounced the caricatures as “contradicting human principles and values,” Syria’s official SANA news agency reported, as the Danish ambassador apologized in person to the minister for religious affairs.
At the same time, protests continued in the Muslim world.
In Gaza City, more than 50 Palestinian gunmen stormed the European Union office Thursday and said they were closing it down “until further notice” to protest against the cartoons.
The militants, from the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Islamic Jihad, said, “We give the three governments (Denmark, Norway and France) a 48-hour ultimatum to apologize officially to Muslims, and if not, every citizen of these three countries would be a target for our fire.”
An EU employee of the Gaza office told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the representation was empty when the gunmen arrived, having been closed down several days ago following an increase in tension sparked by the cartoons. There was no set date for its reopening.
Awad Hamdan, a hotel owner in the West Bank city of Nablus, said militants from al-Aqsa turned up at his hotel Thursday afternoon asking if he had any guests from France, Denmark and Norway.
When he replied he did not, they went to search in other hotels in the city, he said.
The Islamic movement in Israel called for Muslims to attend a protest rally against the cartoons in Nazareth on Saturday.
A protest originally planned to take place in front of the Danish Embassy in Tel Aviv on Wednesday was called off.
The Norwegian Foreign Ministry said Thursday it had closed its consulate on the West Bank for public visits because of the threats, and was considering evacuating staff.
In Damascus, about 300 Syrians staged a sit-in Thursday in front of the Danish embassy in Damascus.
In Pakistan, enraged protestors held rallies in central Multan city and the eastern city of Lahore and demanded the government sever diplomatic ties with Norway, France and Denmark.
Some 400 students from the Jamiat-e-Tulba student wing of the religious Jammat-e-Islami party torched an effigy of the Danish prime minister in Multan and also burned the national flags of Denmark and France.
Angry protesters in Lahore also burned Danish flags and demanded action against the cartoonists.
Liaqat Baloch, a leader of the religious-political alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Ammal (MMA), said nationwide protest rallies would take place all over the country on Friday and the publication of the blasphemous cartoon would be condemned in Friday sermons.
Members of a Turkish union and a religious party left black wreaths outside the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Ankara Wednesday.
Subject: German news, international news