| Protesters burn Danish flags in Kalandia, West Bank. (AFP)
Paris, Feb. 3 (Reuters): European leaders today called for restraint as more newspapers published caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad, saying freedom of speech was sacrosanct, and Muslims protested against the jokes they consider blasphemous.
Muslim protesters in Indonesia, Turkey and the Palestinian West Bank staged violent demonstrations against the cartoons depicting Mohammad, one with a turban resembling a bomb.
“I am concerned...about this escalation we have seen over the last few days,” said Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the EU’s presidency.
“From my point of view it is high time to take a step back and make an effort to see things with each other’s eyes and heart. The language or gestures of threats gets us nowhere,” she said in Vienna.
But there was little respite in the fury of Muslims who see the images of Mohammad as blasphemous, or a debate over freedom of speech verses respect for religion.
The US condemned the cartoons today, siding with Muslims who are outraged that newspapers put press freedom over respect for religion.
“We... respect freedom of the press and expression but it must be coupled with press responsibility. Inciting religious or ethnic hatreds in this manner is not acceptable,” said state department spokesman Kurtis Cooper.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met Muslim envoys to seek calm, but he said he could not apologise on behalf of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper which first published the cartoons.
“Neither the Danish government nor the Danish nation as such can be held responsible for drawings published in a Danish newspaper,” he said after the meeting.
“A Danish government can never apologise on behalf of a free and independent newspaper,” he said. “This is basically a dispute between some Muslims and a newspaper.”
Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Yuri Thamrin said the dispute pitted “the whole Islamic world vis-a-vis Denmark and vis-a-vis the trend of Islamophobia.”
Up to 300 Islamic activists in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, rampaged in the lobby of a building housing the Danish embassy in Jakarta.
Shouting “Allah-u-Akbar”, they smashed lamps with bamboo sticks, threw chairs, lobbed rotten eggs and tomatoes and tore up a Danish flag.
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians attended a Hamas-organised rally, tearing up a French flag.
About 100 demonstrators protested outside the Danish consulate in Istanbul, tearing down a signpost, throwing eggs and leaving a black wreath in protest at the entrance.