LONDON, Jan. 31 ó As Islamic protests continued over cartoons of the prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper, the Danish prime minister defended press freedom in his country today while distancing himself from the newspaper’s decision to publish the drawings.
The remarks of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen fell far short of the official apology demanded by an array of Islamic groups and countries that have imposed a remarkable boycott on Danish products.
The Foreign Ministries of Iran and Iraq both summoned Danish diplomats there today to protest the publication last September of the cartoons, which included one depicting Mohammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. Islam strictly forbids depictions of the prophet.
Sudan joined Saudi Arabia and many other Muslim countries in a boycott of Danish products, and some international supermarket chains withdrew Danish dairy products from their stores in many Islamic countries.
In the Middle East, protesters in Gaza took to the streets for a second day. In Tunis, Arab interior ministers called on the Danish authorities to punish those who drew the cartoons, which were also reprinted on Jan. 9 by Magazinet, a Christian newspaper in Norway.
On Monday, Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper that first published the 12 drawings, apologized for the “fact that the cartoons undeniably offended many Muslims.”
Despite that statement, the offices of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and in the northern town of Aarhus, were evacuated after a bomb threat today, Agence France-Presse reported.
“At approximately three minutes past 5, an English-speaking person gave a message that there would be a bomb attack at the Jyllands-Posten offices 10 minutes after,” a Copenhagen police spokesman, Flemming Munch, told the agency.
The Norwegian publication Magazinet also said today that it “regretted if the drawings offended Muslims.”
But the Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, told a Norwegian news agency, “we will not apologize because in a country like Norway, which guarantees the freedom of expression, we cannot apologize for what the newspapers print.”
“But I am sorry that this may have hurt many Muslims,” he added.
In Copenhagen, Prime Minister Rasmussen sought a similar balance, saying: “I want to emphasize that in Denmark we attach fundamental importance to the freedom of expression, which is a vital and indispensable part of a democratic society.”
“This being said, I would like to stress as my personal opinion that I deeply respect the religious feelings of other people,” Mr. Rasmussen added. “Consequently, I would never myself have chosen to depict religious symbols in this way.”
Though his comments fell short of the official apology sought by governments and Islamic groups abroad, some Islamic leaders in Denmark said the actions by the Danish newspaper and the prime minister were enough.
“We will in clear terms thank the prime minister and Jyllands-Posten for what they have done,” Kasem Ahmad, a spokesman for the Islamic Religious Community in Denmark, told Reuters.