Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 20:14 pm (KSA) 17:14 pm (GMT)

Cartoon protests not as bad as 2006: Danish FM

Palestinians set a Danish flag afire during a protest in Gaza
Palestinians set a Danish flag afire during a protest in Gaza

Protests in Muslim countries against the republication in Denmark of a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed are worrying but not as serious as the international crisis they caused in 2006, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller said Friday.

"We are far from the previous crisis but this could change even though we are doing our utmost to prevent it," Moeller told reporters following a parliamentary foreign policy commission meeting.

Protests against the Scandinavian country have raged in a number of Muslim countries, including Sudan, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and Gaza, since 17 Danish dailies last week reprinted a drawing featuring Prophet Mohammed's head with a turban that looked like a bomb with a lit fuse.

The caricature was one of several caricatures that sparked violent protests that culminated in early 2006 with the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut and the death of dozens of people in Nigeria.

The Danish papers republished the caricature a day after police in Denmark foiled a plot to murder the cartoonist, insisting it was a gesture of solidarity with him and a blow in defense of freedom of expression.

The Danish foreign ministry is in close contact with governments and religious leaders in Muslim countries in an attempt to deflect the crisis, Moeller said.

"We have explained to them that the Danish newspapers republished one of the drawings because of murder plans against one of the artists, and I think they understand this even though they don't like the drawings themselves," he added.

The ministry has warned Danish citizens to be vigilant when traveling in Muslim countries, advising them not to go to Pakistan, Gaza or the West Bank.

Egypt concerned about Dutch film

Meanwhile, Egypt on Friday deplored what it called gratuitous attacks on Islam and said it was closely monitoring plans by a Dutch filmmaker to release an anti-Quran film.

"It is regrettable that European lawmakers and politicians use gratuitous methods to gain electoral votes by attacking the sacred values and religions of others," foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said in a statement.

Dutch far-right deputy Geert Wilders has said he will be airing on television in the Netherlands in March a controversial anti-Islam film called "Fitna" (Ordeal), which accuses the Quran of inciting people to murder.

Such politicians, Zaki said in reference to Wilders, "focus their hatred on Islam" and plan to broadcast a film undermining Islamic symbols.

These acts "feed hatred against Muslims and encourage extremism and confrontation instead of opting for dialogue based on mutual respect," Zaki said.

This month Egypt banned the sale of four European newspapers for reprinting the Prophet pictures and summoned the ambassador of Denmark.

Belarus frees cartoon publisher

In Belarus the Supreme Court freed an editor jailed for reproducing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, one of three detainees whose release is seen by the West as key to improving ties with the ex-Soviet state.

Alexander Sdvizhkov, editor of the independent Zgoda (consensus) newspaper, was jailed for three years last month. He was freed after Belarus's Supreme Court reduced his sentence to three months.

The release of three remaining detainees viewed as "political prisoners" in the West is a fundamental condition set by Western countries for improving relations with Belarus, led by President Alexander Lukashenko since 1994.

Still in detention are Belarus's most prominent inmate, academic Alexander Kozulin, who challenged Lukashenko's bid for re-election in 1996, and Andrei Kim, a businessman detained in connection with protests last month by small entrepreneurs.

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