Artist says Prophet picture meant to stir debate

STOCKHOLM Tue Sep 18, 2007 7:56pm EDT

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks talks to the media at the entrance of the national Swedish Television headquarters in Stockholm, September 16, 2007. REUTERS/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks talks to the media at the entrance of the national Swedish Television headquarters in Stockholm, September 16, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Henrik Montgomery/Scanpix

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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish artist threatened with death over his drawing of a dog with the head of Islam's Prophet Mohammad said on Tuesday he drew the picture to spark debate about freedom of expression in the art world.

Showing the original picture at a debate in the Swedish capital, Lars Vilks said he had wanted to test the boundaries of freedom in art.

"It was a project for the art world," Vilks said.

"I noticed that you can't criticize the Muslim world."

Muslim countries including Iran and Pakistan have expressed anger over the drawing, and Sweden's prime minister has met ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries to defuse the row.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, offered up to $150,000 on Saturday for the murder of Vilks.

In an audiotape posted on the Internet, Baghdadi offered a lower bounty for the death of the editor of daily Nerikes Allehanda, which published the drawing last month.

Vilks, who has been told by police he is no longer safe living at home, said the response to his drawing had been much bigger than he had anticipated.

He said the drawing was humorous and that he did not see it as negative.

"You can make jokes about religion, especially if you don't have any unpleasant motives," he said.

Top Swedish firms such as truck maker Volvo, mobile network builder Ericsson and retailer Ikea were also threatened unless an apology was forthcoming for the drawing.

The controversy follows violent protests in the Muslim world last year over the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons some Muslims felt insulted the Prophet Mohammad. More than 50 people died across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

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