JAN. 30 12:31 P.M. ET The European Union backed Denmark Monday in a diplomatic dispute with Muslim countries over Danish caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, saying that any retaliatory boycott of Danish goods would violate world trade rules.
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said an EU foreign affairs ministers meeting condemned Saudi Arabia’s call to boycott Danish goods and all threats made against Danish, Swedish and Norwegian citizens in recent days.
“They are of the same feelings as we are, a boycott against our merchandise will be against the World Trade Organization rules if they are instigated,” Moeller told reporters.
Ministers said in a statement that the EU “rejects any threats by militant factions against EU citizens.” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU presidency said the 25-nation bloc had been informed about the threats at Monday’s talks. “We strongly reject these threats,” said Plassnik. “We have to the core of the matter expressed our feeling of solidarity with our Nordic colleagues.”
Stig Moeller said the Danish foreign ministry was putting up a special Web Site in Arabic to explain what he said were misunderstandings about drawings published in a Danish newspaper of Prophet Muhammad. He said reports being spread in some Muslim countries of the Danish government putting up similar posters was not true.
“There are very, very many things that are not correct,” said Stig Moeller. “I read … that the Danish government put up posters against Mohammad. We have not put up any posters concerning Mohammad or against any other people.”
The 12 drawings — published in September by Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten and republished in a Norwegian paper this month — included an image of the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet, even respectful ones, out of concern that such images could lead to idolatry.
The caricatures has led to a diplomatic row between Denmark and Saudi Arabia, which recalled its ambassador to Denmark last week. Libya closed its embassy in Copenhagen.
On Monday, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson warned Saudi Arabia that the bloc would take action at the WTO if it found that it supported a boycott of Danish goods. The Saudi government told Mandelson that it had not encouraged the boycott.
Denmark-based Arla Foods said the consumer boycott of its products in the Middle East was almost total. Arla Foods’ products have been removed from shop shelves in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, Europe’s largest dairy group said.
The Middle East is Arla Foods’ main market outside Europe. It has 2.6 billion kroner (euro350 million; US$430 million) in annual sales in the Middle East and about 1,000 employees in the region.
Stig Moeller said Denmark did not support inciting racial or religious hatred but could not condemn the free expression of the press.
“We condemn blasphemy, we want respect for religions … but we cannot intervene,” he said. “We have sent explanations, but as we said before, freedom of expression is a matter for the courts, not for the government.”
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