COPENHAGEN Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday distanced himself from remarks made by an anti-Muslim populist Dutch film-maker, saying he condemned attempts to demonize religious or ethnic groups.
Geert Wilders, who is also a right-wing lawmaker, praised Rasmussen in a Danish television interview for backing freedom of speech after local newspapers reprinted satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, and criticized Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende for bowing in the face of Muslim anger.
"I strongly condemn Geert Wilders' condescending statements about Muslims," Rasmussen said in a statement. "I find these expressions extremely offensive," he added.
Wilders plans this month to show a 15-minute video which criticizes the Muslim holy book, the Koran, despite appeals from the Dutch government and mounting unrest in the Muslim world.
In the interview with Denmark's DR TV, Wilders said he wanted to "combat the threat of the growing Islamisation of Western society."
Rasmussen, who angered Muslims by refusing to take action against Danish media that published the cartoons, said he wished to disassociate himself completely from Wilders' views and rejected the Dutch lawmakers' "attempt at associating his views to those of the Danish Government."
Protests have been held in several Muslim countries over the last four weeks after Danish newspapers published the cartoon -- one of 12 that prompted deadly riots in many Muslim countries in 2006 -- in solidarity with the artist following the arrest of three men on suspicion of planning to kill him.
Wilders said the cartoonist Kurt Westergaard had received better support in the face of Muslim wrath from Rasmussen than he himself had seen from the Dutch prime minister.
"I wish we had such a prime minister in Holland," Wilders said. "Unfortunately we have a coward that does not hold firm on the constitution's words about freedom of expression," he added.
Long contentious at home for his anti-Islam populism, Wilders has triggered fury among Muslims thousands of kilometers away with his remarks about his film plans.
"Of course not all Muslims are terrorists, but they have a culture and ideology that harms democracy and which is not compatible with democracy," Wilders was quoted as saying on DR's Web site.
Rasmussen said Wilders' remarks about Muslims were "so insulting" that he wished to hear no group in Danish society referred to in such a manner.
(Reporting by Kim McLaughlin; editing by Sami Aboudi)