Indignant Afghanistan slams Prophet Mohammad sketch

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan on Saturday condemned the printing of a sketch of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad with the body of a dog in a Swedish newspaper, calling it hostile towards the Muslim world.

The sketch has also drawn condemnation from neighbouring Pakistan, which said it was blasphemous. Muslims believe images of the Prophet are forbidden and consider dogs to be impure.

“Our Holy Prophet’s cartoon in a Swedish paper has provoked all Afghans,” wrote The Kabul Times, publishing a statement by religious scholars, imams and the Ministry of Islamic Guidance.

“The sold-out enemies of Islam draw the cartoon of the respected Prophet of Islam once more. This has disturbed the Islamic world and aroused the indignation of all Muslims,” the statement said.

It demanded those responsible be handed over to a court for prosecution and punishment.

While stressing the peaceful relationship of Muslims and Christians living in Sweden, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said it was not for him as a political leader to interfere with the decision by Nerikes Allehanda, a local newspaper in central Sweden, to publish the sketch.

“In line with our freedom of speech, our democracy and our way of doing things, others make this kind of (editorial) decisions,” Reinfeldt said in a radio interview.

Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad published in Denmark, and later reprinted in European newspapers, sparked widespread anger and deadly protests in several Muslim countries in early 2006.

In Afghanistan, 10 protesters were killed during clashes with government forces over the issue, which coincided with rising anger among many Afghans against some Western countries for perceived religious insensitivity.

The U.S. military last week expressed regret for a publicity campaign that offended many Afghans, after troops dropped free footballs for soccer-mad Afghan children in southeast Afghanistan marked with flags of various countries.

The balls depicted the Saudi Arabian flag, which carries the Islamic declaration of faith and the names of Allah and Prophet Mohammad. The idea of kicking them is considered offensive by Muslims.

Additional reporting by Niklas Pollard in Stockholm