Monday, January 30

Protests Grow Over Danish Cartoon of Muhammad

Filed at 5:06 p.m. ET

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) -- From the burning of its flag to a boycott of its brands of butter and cookies, Denmark is feeling Islamic outrage over newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Islamists in Bahrain urged street demonstrations, while Syria called for the offenders to be punished. A Saudi company paid thousands of dollars for an ad thanking a business that snubbed Danish products.

The anger is reminiscent of the 1989 wrath that followed publication of ''The Satanic Verses,'' the Salman Rushdie novel that radicals said insulted Islam. Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a death sentence against the British writer.

The cartoons originally were published nearly four months ago in Denmark and reprinted Jan. 10 by the Norwegian evangelical newspaper Magazinet in the name of defending free expression.

The spasm of vilification in newspapers and mosque sermons, by governments, citizens and radicals appears to have spoken to pent up Muslim anger typically reserved for former colonial powers Britain and France, as well as the United States.

''This will be used by regimes who resent Western pressures to reform to say that the West is waging a war against Muslims and doesn't have their best interests at heart,'' Sulaiman al-Hattlan, a Dubai-based Saudi writer, told The Associated Press.

The Danish paper Jyllands-Posten first published the 12 cartoons Sept. 30. The drawings included one showing Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a lit fuse. Another portrayed him with a bushy gray beard and holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle. A third pictured a middle-aged prophet standing in the desert with a walking stick, in front of a donkey and a sunset.

Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet, favorable or otherwise.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador to Denmark and initiated a boycott of Danish goods. It was warned Monday by Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson that the European Union would take WTO action if the boycott persisted.

The newspaper issued an apology Monday to the world's Muslims.

The cartoons ''were not in violation of Danish law but have undoubtedly offended many Muslims, which we would like to apologize for,'' the Jyllands-Posten's editor-in-chief Carsten Juste said in a statement posted on the newspaper's Web site.

On Sunday, the newspaper printed a statement in Arabic addressed to Saudis, who had initiated the boycott. It said the drawings were published as part of a Danish dialogue about freedom of expression but were misinterpreted ''as if it were a campaign against Muslims in Denmark and in the Islamic world.''

Few were swayed by the explanation.

''In (the West) it is considered freedom of speech if they insult Islam and Muslims,'' Mohammed al-Shaibani, a columnist, wrote in Kuwait's Al-Qabas daily Monday. ''But such freedom becomes racism and a breach of human rights and anti-Semitism if Arabs and Muslims criticize their religion and religious laws.''

Emirates Justice and Islamic Affairs Minister Mohammed Al Dhaheri called it ''cultural terrorism, not freedom of expression,'' according to the official WAM news agency. ''The repercussions of such irresponsible acts will have adverse impact on international relations.''

In Tunisia, the head of the Islamic world's counterpart to UNESCO called the drawings ''a form of racism and discrimination that one must counter by all available means.''

''It's regrettable to state today, as we are calling for dialogue, that other parties feed animosity and hate and attack sacred symbols of Muslims and of their prophet,'' said Abdulaziz Othman Altwaijri, president of the Islamic Organization for Education, Science and Culture,

Jordan's largest circulation daily, government-run Al-Rai, said the Danish government must apologize.

In two West Bank towns Sunday, Palestinians burned Danish flags and demanded an apology. Several Islamist groups, including the Palestinian militant Hamas party and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, called for a worldwide boycott of Danish products.

The same call in several Persian Gulf countries has resulted in supermarkets clearing shelves of Danish cream cheese, butter and cookies. Kuwait's Al-Jahra Cooperative Society said in an ad in the Al-Rai Al-Aam daily that all Danish products have been removed from its shelves.

In Saudi Arabia, the daily Al-Watan refused to publish an ad from Denmark-based dairy group Arla Foods, which has said the boycott of its products was almost total.

Luai Mutabakani, senior editor at the paper, told the AP the full-page ad, titled ''The Danish government respects Islam,'' did not carry any apology or reprimand the paper.

In Iraq, thousands denounced the caricatures during Friday prayers.

The Egyptian parliament's Economic Committee refused to discuss a $72.49 million loan from Denmark to Egypt.

President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon condemned the cartoon, saying his country ''cannot accept any insult to any religion.''

Danish government officials expressed regret for the furor caused by the drawings but refused to become involved, citing freedom of expression. Mindful of the outrage, the government advised its citizens to ''show extra vigilance'' in the region.

Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Claes Jernaeus warned against travel to Gaza and the West Bank.