A Muslim community spokesman and Egypt’s ambassador in Copenhagen welcomed Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s New Year address, in which he defended free speech but urged Danes to exercise the right without inciting hatred against Muslims.
Rasmussen’s conciliatory words, which Copenhagen translated into Arabic and distributed to Middle Eastern countries, came after Arab foreign ministers last week condemned the Danish government for not acting against the Jyllands-Posten daily.
Denmark’s largest newspaper ran 12 cartoons of Prophet Mohammad last September, including one in which he seems to be carrying a bomb in his turban. Islam considers images of Prophet Mohammad disrespectful and caricatures blasphemous.
“It’s a very positive signal for the Arab world that he now addresses the issue and indirectly condemns Jyllands-Posten in his speech,” Kasem Ahmad, spokesman for the Islamic Religious Community in Denmark told Reuters.
Egypt, which has led a diplomatic campaign against Denmark, was pleased by the translated statement.
“It is a positive step towards dialogue and I hope my own and other Arab governments view this as a positive signal,” Egyptian ambassador Mona Omar Attia told the daily Politiken.
Rasmussen has consistently defended Denmark’s tradition of free speech, which he said included the right to satirise all authorities, and refused to meet envoys of 11 Muslim states who wanted him to punish Jyllands-Posten.
He restated the defence in his New Year address but added free speech should be exercised “in such a manner that we do not incite hatred and cause fragmentation of the community that is one of Denmark’s strengths.”
Ahmad said he still wanted an official apology from the newspaper, but Jyllands-Posten’s editor-in-chief Carsten Juste rejected the call.
“We can’t apologise for the drawings. We live under Danish law and freedom of speech,” he said. “But we didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
(Additional reporting by Tom Heneghan in Paris and Karin Lundback in Copenhagen)
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