Thu, Feb 16, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Suicide footballers cartoon upsets Iran

THE GUARDIAN , BERLIN

A German newspaper on Tuesday published a cartoon depicting the Iranian football team dressed as suicide bombers, opening up a new front in the row over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

Iran immediately demanded an apology from Der Tagesspiegel, which showed four Iranian players at this summer's World Cup in Germany with explosives attached to their chests. A caption read: "Why the German army should definitely be used during the football World Cup."

The general secretary of Iran's sports press association yesterday described the latest caricature as a "black joke". The Iranian embassy in Berlin called for an apology, saying the cartoon was "an immoral act."

In Iran scores of protesters hurled petrol bombs and stones at the British and German embassies in Tehran. The official IRNA news agency announced that Danish pastries had been renamed Roses of the Prophet Mohammed.

Yesterday's row over the football cartoon comes at a time when relations between Germany and Iran have sunk to a new low. Iran has already compared Germany's Christian Democrat leader, Angela Merkel, to Hitler after she hinted that her government may be prepared to support military action against Iran.

Malte Lehming, comment editor at Der Tagesspiegel, said yesterday the caricature was meant for "a German audience."

Asked whether it had been unwise to print it, he said: "The problem is where do you draw the line? Cartoons have to be satirical and mean. We are very sorry if we have hurt the feelings of any Iranians. But we have not apologized."

The cartoonist, Klaus Stuttmann, received three death threats and is in hiding, the paper said. It reprinted the cartoon next to an editorial, which said it had not intended to question the "integrity" of Iran's football team.

Iran's bestselling newspaper Hamshahri yesterday defended its competition for cartoons about the Holocaust, saying it was a test of the free speech allegedly espoused by Western countries. The contest is a serious exercise in debate, said Mohammadreza Zaeri, publisher of Hamshahri.

"We do not want to make fun of anyone, we just want to raise a question to find an answer which is very important for us," he said.

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