| A Palestinian worker removes French and Danish products from shelves at a supermarket in the West Bank city of Hebron. (Reuters)
Paris, Feb. 2 (Reuters): An international row over newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad gathered pace today as more European dailies printed controversial Danish caricatures and Muslims stepped up pressure to stop them.
About a dozen Palestinian gunmen surrounded EU offices in the Gaza Strip demanding an apology for the cartoons, one of which shows Islam’s founder wearing a bomb-shaped turban. Muslims consider any images of Mohammad to be blasphemous.
The owner of France Soir, a Paris daily that reprinted them yesterday along with one German and two Spanish papers, sacked its managing editor to show “a strong sign of respect for the beliefs and intimate convictions of every individual”. But the tabloid defended its right to print the cartoons, first published last September in Danish daily Jyllands-Posten.
Le Temps in Geneva and Budapest’s Magyar Hirlap ran another offending cartoon showing an imam telling suicide bombers to stop because heaven had run out of virgins to reward them.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the issue had gone beyond a row between Copenhagen and the Muslim world and now centred on western free speech versus taboos in Islam, which is now the second religion in many European countries.
“We are talking about an issue with fundamental significance to how democracies work,” Rasmussen told the Copenhagen daily Politiken. “One can safely say it is now an even bigger issue.”
His office said he and foreign minister Per Stig Moeller had summoned foreign envoys in Copenhagen for a Friday meeting to discuss the outcry and the Danish response.
Denmark’s ambassador in Paris met leaders of French Muslims, who have threatened legal action over the cartoons, handing over a letter of regret from Rasmussen, written in Arabic, and an apology from the director of Jyllands-Posten.
French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said press freedom could not be called into question but urged restraint: “The principle of freedom should be exercised in a spirit of tolerance, respect of beliefs, respect of religions, which is the very basis of secularism of our country.”