Danish plea for calm on cartoons

Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen has appeared on Arabic television to try to defuse a worsening row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in European media.

Mr Rasmussen again apologised for any offence but insisted his government was not responsible for newspaper articles.

The cartoons, first seen in a Danish paper, have sparked violent protests and boycotts across the Muslim world.

Editors of a Jordanian and a French newspaper who chose to republish the cartoons have been dismissed.

One of the cartoons shows the Prophet wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise is running short of virgins for suicide bombers.

Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet or Allah.

Ambassadors summoned

In an interview with the Dubai-based al-Arabiya channel, Mr Rasmussen called on all parties to avoid escalating the row.

“I have sent a very strong appeal to everyone in Denmark that though this dispute may raise many strong feelings, everybody should take the responsibility to ensure peaceful co-operation in Denmark,” he said.

Mr Rasmussen said the issue has gone beyond Denmark to become a clash between Western free speech and Islamic taboos.

Denmark has summoned ambassadors in Copenhagen to talks on the row on Friday. Syria and Saudi Arabia have already withdrawn their envoys.

Danish companies are already feeling the pinch of Muslim boycotts.

Dairy firm Arla Foods said on Thursday it was laying off 125 staff in Denmark.

Although the cartoons originated in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten paper, they have been reprinted in newspapers in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain – all saying they were expressing free speech.

In Jordan, an independent tabloid, al-Shihan, reprinted three of the cartoons on Thursday, saying people should know what they were protesting about.

In a separate article, the newspaper’s editor, Jihad Momani, urged the world’s Muslims to “be reasonable” in their response to the drawings.

The paper’s publishers sacked him hours later over the “shock” he had caused, Jordan’s official Petra news agency reported.

There has been widespread anger over the cartoons among Muslim nations and communities.

Norway closed its mission to the public in the West Bank in response to threats from two militant groups against Norwegians, Danes and French people.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the decision to publish the cartoons could encourage terrorists.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned their publication, saying it was “an affront… for hundreds of millions of people”.

Hundreds of students demonstrated in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Multan, burning flags and effigies of the Danish prime minister.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson also criticised the European papers which re-ran the cartoons, saying they were “throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue and the original offence that was taken”.

Bomb threat

The row intensified on Wednesday when France Soir, alongside the 12 original cartoons, printed a new drawing on its front page showing Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy figures sitting on a cloud, with the caption “Don’t worry Muhammad, we’ve all been caricatured here.”

France Soir’s editor, Jacques Lefranc, was dismissed by the paper’s French-Egyptian owner after the decision to publish the cartoons.

But journalists at France Soir stood by their editor’s decision on Thursday, printing a front page picture and editorial in which they strongly defended the right to free speech.

The man named to replace Mr Lefranc in an interim role, Eric Fauveau, said he would not take up the post. Mr Fauveau called the dismissal of Mr Lefranc “inopportune”.

Jyllands-Posten has apologised for causing offence to Muslims, although it maintains it was legal under Danish law to print the cartoons.

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Feb. 2, 2006

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