At least 41 people have now died since the row ignited last month, following the intervention of political and religious leaders in the Arab world. Churches in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan, as well as the US embassy in Indonesia, were attacked at the weekend and extremists fought running battles with police in the Pakistan capital, Islamabad.
A full-page apology in Arabic by Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that first commissioned works such as a caricature of the prophet with a bomb-shaped turban, was published in newspapers in Saudi Arabia.
“Allow me in the name of Jyllands-Posten to apologise for what happened and declare my strong condemnation of any step that attacks specific religions, ethnic groups and peoples.
“I hope that with this I have removed the misunderstanding,” wrote Carsten Juste, the editor of Jyllands-Posten.
It was unclear why the apologies, dated Feb 5, appeared now but it is likely that the decision to publish them had to be cleared with Saudi authorities.
The newspaper’s admission that “we did not realise at the time how sensitive this issue was for Muslims in Denmark or millions of Muslims around the world” seems unlikely to quell the protests in the immediate future.
The past three days of violence have left at least 27 dead in Libya and Nigeria. At the same time, Pakistani security forces yesterday sealed off Islamabad, and took hundreds of Islamic radicals into custody in three cities to quash planned protests, which were aimed as much at the Pakistani military ruler, Gen Pervez Musharraf, as at Denmark.
Police used tear gas and gunfire in a three-hour running battle with protesters trying to attend the rally in Islamabad, called by a six-party hardline Islamic coalition, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or MMA. In the southern city of Sukkur, police said 400 Muslims burned a church following rumours that a Christian had burned pages from the Koran. In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, 15,000 MMA supporters marched without serious incident.
In Turkey, tens of thousands of people marched in Istanbul, burning straw effigies of Tony Blair and President George W Bush, as well as the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
In Indonesia, 400 protesters tried to storm the fortified US embassy in Jakarta. They burned American flags and a poster of Mr Bush, and smashed the windows of a guard post.
On Saturday, an Italian government minister, Roberto Calderoli of the hard-Right Northern League, resigned a day after attacks on an Italian mission in Libya claimed 10 lives. The rioting began after Mr Calderoli wore a T-shirt bearing one of the Mohammed cartoons on television.
The 10 Libyans died in clashes with security forces at the Italian Consulate in the coastal city of Benghazi, which also saw attacks on a Roman Catholic church. Libya’s interior minister was suspended, amid claims that police used excessive force.
The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, telephoned the Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi, later telling reporters that he wanted to avoid a “rupture with a nation which, among other things, is useful for supplying energy”.
Troops patrolled the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, after at least 16 people died in rioting on Saturday, most of them Christians. Rioters also burned churches, hotels, shops and vehicles, residents said.