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Danish paper apologizes to Muslims over insulting them, companies sales come to a halt

Regional-Denmark, Politics, 1/31/2006

A Danish newspaper on Monday issued an apology to the world's Muslims for publishing caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that had sparked a furor in the Islamic world, and major boycott of Danish company products

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

Although the caricatures were published in September, anger over them has spread this month through Muslim countries, prompting boycotts of Danish products by Saudi Arabia and other countries.

In an interview on the Danish television channel TV2, Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Denmark's government "cannot make apologies on behalf of a Danish newspaper. That is not how our democracy works."

He added, "Independent media cannot be edited by the government."

Asked about his private opinion, Fogh Rasmussen replied, "I personally have such a respect for people's religious belief that I personally never would have depicted Muhammad, Jesus or any other religious character in a way that could offend other people."

Earlier Monday, Arla's executive director, Peder Tuborgh, had urged the Danish government to take action.

"I urgently beg the government to enter a positive dialogue with the many millions of Muslims who feel they have been offended by Denmark," Tuborgh said in a statement.

"Freedom of expression is an internal Danish issue, but this has a totally different dimension," he said. "This is about Denmark having offended millions of Muslims."

The Norwegian People's Aid group also said that it was withdrawing its two Norwegian representatives in Gaza after the threats, but that operations would be maintained by eight local staff members.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the Danish Foreign Ministry called on Danes to be cautious in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Israel, as well as the Palestinian territories.

An Iraqi militant group called on Monday for attacks against Danish and Norwegian targets and said a boycott of products was not enough, according to an Internet statement. The statement could not be authenticated, but it was posted on a main web site used by Iraqi insurgent groups. The group was among three organizations that have claimed the downing of a US helicopter in Iraq this month.

The caricatures, 12 drawings that were reprinted in a Norwegian paper this month, included an image of the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic tradition prohibits any depiction of the prophet.

Juste, editor of the Danish newspaper, said the drawings "were, according to our understanding, sober and were not meant to be offensive." He denied that the drawings were part of a campaign against Muslims, saying, "I categorically must reject that."

Two Saudi employees of Arla Foods were hit by angry customers in separate incidents, but neither was seriously injured, said a spokesman for Arla, Louis Illum Honore.

Another Arla official, Jens Refslund, the food products division manager, said in a statement that "all Arla's customers in the region have canceled their orders, and sales have come to a standstill in almost all markets."

Arla products have been removed from shops in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The company has a 2.6 billion kroner, or $420 million, in annual sales in the Middle East and about 1,000 employees in the region.



Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved