Danish PM calls cartoon backlash "global crisis"

Turkish FM: Hostility against Muslims replacing anti-Semitism.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 6, 2006 15:52
afghan demonstrations cartoon prophet

afghan cartoon298 88 ap. (photo credit: AP)

 
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"We are now facing a growing global crisis," Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference. A Danish paper, Jyllands-Posten, first published the caricatures that have sparked violent protests in Muslim countries. "Now it has become an international political matter," he said. "I urge calm and steadiness." Fogh Rasmussen said Denmark was not contemplating changes in its strategy for responding to the spiraling tensions.

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"In Denmark we have a long tradition of solving disagreements through dialogue and that is what the government will do, enter a dialogue," he said. Outraged Muslim demonstrators, who have set fire to the Danish embassies in Syria and Lebanon and held chaotic protests elsewhere, have demanded the Danish government apologize for the cartoons, which Jyllands-Posten printed in September. "It is a very unpleasant situation for Danes, we're not used to this," said Rasmussen, who reiterated that Denmark's press freedom culture means the government cannot apologize for what an independent newspaper does. The newspaper has apologized for offense caused to Muslims, but has defended its printing the drawings as a legitimate exercise in freedom of expression. Shortly before the news conference, U.S. President George W. Bush called the Danish PM, expressing his solidarity in the face of growing violent protests. Earlier, the Foreign Ministry said the embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, has been temporarily closed because of fears it would be stormed. Niels Erik Andersen, Denmark's ambassador to Indonesia, said Muslims groups throughout Indonesia had been burning Danish flags and effigies of Fogh Rasmussen. "A Muslim organization said it was looking for Danes on the streets," Andersen said on Danish public radio. Protests, some violent, swirled through the Muslim world Monday while politicians sought diplomatic solutions to the growing and increasingly violent crisis surrounding published caricatures of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Lebanon apologized to Denmark after thousands of rampaging Muslim demonstrators set fire to the building housing the Danish mission in Beirut. The European Union issued stern reminders to 18 Arab and other Muslim countries worldwide that they are obliged under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to protect foreign embassies, and Austria - which now holds the EU Council presidency, reported calling in a top representative of the Organization of the Islamic Conference to express concerns for the safety of diplomatic missions. The prime ministers of Spain and Turkey issued a Christian-Muslim appeal for calm, saying "we shall all be the losers if we fail to immediately defuse this situation." But Turkey's foreign minister said media freedoms cannot be limitless and that hostility against Muslims was replacing anti-Semitism in the West. About 200 demonstrators in Teheran threw stones at the Austrian Embassy, breaking some windows and starting small fires. The demonstration lasted two hours, with protesters also throwing firecrackers that started the fires. Police quickly extinguished the blazes and stopped some protesters from throwing stones. In southern Iraq, several thousand Iraqis rallied to demand diplomatic and economic ties be severed with countries in which the caricatures were published. The protest in Kut, 160 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Baghdad, witnessed the burning of Danish, German and Israeli flags and an effigy of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Protesters called for the death of anyone who insults Muhammad and demanded withdrawal of 530-member Danish military contingent operating under British control. Danish Capt. Philip Ulrichsen, of the Qurnah-based contingent, said Danish troops were shot at and targeted by stone-throwing youths on Sunday. A roadside bomb planted in the area was also defused. No soldiers were wounded in any of the incidents. Several thousand students massed peacefully in Cairo on the campus of al-Azhar University, the oldest and most important seat of Sunni Muslim learning in the world, to protest the drawings. Police and soldiers in central Afghanistan clashed with protesters. One person died and four wounded. The main city in Indian-controlled Kashmir came to a standstill as shops, businesses and schools shut down for a day to protest the caricatures. Dozens of Muslim protesters torched Danish flags, burned tires, shouted slogans and hurled rocks at passing cars in several parts of Srinagar. In the Indian capital of New Delhi, riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse hundreds of students from Jamia University, who chanted slogans and burned a Danish flag. Muslim leaders in Australia demanded a newspaper there apologize after it published one of the cartoons. Palestinian police in Gaza City used batons to beat back stone-throwing protesters who gathered outside the European Commission building. About 200 protesters waved green flags symbolizing the Islamic Hamas movement and the yellow flags of the secular Fatah Party. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for an end to violence and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the country would try to use its contacts with Arab countries to cool the violence. "We cannot allow this argument to become a battle between cultures," Steinmeier said. Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said early Monday that the government had unanimously "rejected and condemned the ... riots," saying they had "harmed Lebanon's reputation and its civilized image and the noble aim of the demonstration." "The Cabinet apologizes to Denmark," Aridi said. Police investigating Sunday's fire and riot at the building housing the Danish mission said that, contrary to previous reports, the mission offices were intact. The fire and wrecking of offices had been confined to Lebanese businesses on lower floors. At least one person died, 30 were injured - half of them security officials - and about 200 people were detained in Sunday's violence, officials said. Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said the arrested included 76 Syrians, 35 Palestinians and 38 Lebanese. The Beirut violence came a day after violent protests in neighboring Syria, including the burning of the Danish and Norwegian missions. The United States accused the Syrian government of backing the protests in Lebanon and Syria, an accusation also made by anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians. Thousands also took to the streets Sunday elsewhere in the Muslim world and parts of Europe, including some 3,000 Afghans who burned a Danish flag and demanded the editors at the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten - which originally published the cartoons - be prosecuted for blasphemy. At least four people were killed and 19 wounded in the violent demonstration. Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged forgiveness. The Islamic Army in Iraq, a key group in the insurgency fighting US-led and Iraqi forces, posted a second Internet statement Sunday calling for violence against citizens of countries where the caricatures have been published. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero published a column in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune saying the dispute "can only leave a trail of mistrust and misunderstanding between both sides." "Therefore, it is necessary to make an appeal for respect and calm, and let the voice of reason be heard," Erdogan and Zapatero wrote. Last year, their governments presided over the launch of the UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations. The Lebanese interior minister submitted his resignation late Sunday after the parliamentary opposition and even some Cabinet colleagues of Interior Minister Hassan Sabei demanded he step down. The government appeared divided, saying it only "took note" of the resignation offer. The attack on the Danish mission in Beirut took on a sectarian dimension in this mixed Muslim-Christian nation, which suffered a 1975-90 civil war. Muslim extremists took over the streets in the Christian Ashrafieh neighborhood where the Danish mission is located, wreaking havoc on property for about three hours. Muslim clerics also denounced the violence Sunday, with some wading into the mobs to try to stop the attacks. There was widespread criticism of the failure of the Lebanese security forces, which appeared to lose control of the streets for about three hours. Sabei defended their actions. "Things got out of hand when elements that had infiltrated into the ranks of the demonstrators broke through security shields," he told reporters. "The one remaining option was an order to shoot, but I was not prepared to order the troops to shoot Lebanese citizens." Grand Mufti Mohammed Rashid Kabbani, spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, suggested that Islamic radicals had fanned the anger to "distort the image of Islam." Anti-Syrian politicians in Lebanon saw a Syrian hand at work trying to destabilizing the country. Relations between Beirut, where the government now is dominated by anti-Syrians, and Damascus have deteriorated since Syria's troop withdrawal in April after the assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri. "It seems that through sending weapons and men and using some Syrian workers they (the Syrians) want to say that Lebanon will face chaos as a result of their departure from Lebanon," said Walid Jumblatt, a leading anti-Syrian politician. The drawings - including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse - have caused Muslim fury worldwide. Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depictions of the Prophet Muhammad for fear they could lead to idolatry. The caricatures have since been republished in several European and New Zealand newspapers as a statement on behalf of a free press. Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has said he disapproves of the caricatures, but insisted he cannot apologize on behalf of his country's independent press.

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