Sat, Feb 04, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Tensions deepening over cartoons of Mohammed


France and Denmark warned travelers against visiting Gaza, and Norway closed its Palestinian offices as anger snowballs across the Muslim world over the publication in European newspapers of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

The issue also opened divisions between EU governments, with Austria's foreign minister on Thursday stressing the need to respect religious sensitivities and the French interior minister saying that avoiding censorship takes precedence.

The cultural clash cut to the question of what is more dear: freedom of expression or respect for religious belief. Gunmen in Gaza threatened to kidnap Europeans and Pakistani protesters chanted "Death to France."

But in France, journalists rallied around the director of France Soir daily, who was fired by its Egyptian owner on Wednesday after it republished cartoons that already riled the Muslim world when a Danish newspaper ran them in September.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking on LCI television, said he found the sacking of Jacques Lefranc "shocking," and said he preferred "an excess of caricature to an excess of censure."

But Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said in Vienna that EU leaders have a responsibility to "clearly condemn" insults to any religion. Austria holds the EU's rotating presidency.

Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry. The drawings have divided opinion within Europe and the Middle East, where they have prompted boycotts of Danish goods, bomb threats and demonstrations against Danish facilities.

The cartoons include an image of Mohammed wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle.

Palestinian gunmen demanded apologies from the governments of France, Denmark, Germany and Norway, where newspapers also published the cartoons. The gunmen surrounded the European Commission's office in Gaza and threatened to kidnap Europeans.

In Pakistan, more than 300 Islamic students protested, chanting "Death to Denmark" and "Death to France."

Afghanistan's president and Indonesia's foreign ministry condemned the cartoons, and Iran's foreign ministry summoned the Austrian ambassador. Groups representing Britain's Muslims said they met with the Danish ambassador in London.

Sarkozy said France "is not going to establish censorship" simply because Islam is now the country's second-largest religion.

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Indonesian radicals storm embassy

Mohammed cartoon row divides Danes

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