German minister contests Mohammad cartoon comments

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble called on Wednesday for papers across Europe to reprint cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad but his ministry said his comments, made in an interview, had been misinterpreted.

Die Zeit weekly quoted Schaeuble as saying he respected this month’s decision by Danish newspapers to reprint a cartoon that caused outrage in Islamic countries two years ago.

“In actual fact, all European newspapers should print these cartoons, with the explanation: ‘We find them abysmal, too, but the exercise of press freedom is no reason to use violence’,” it quoted Schaeuble as saying.

Schaeuble’s spokesman did not contest the quote but he told a news conference the minister had made the comments in a long conversation, and was not urging papers to reprint the cartoons.

“I see no reason to interpret this as Schaeuble calling for the cartoons to be printed across Europe. He rather said that we have the principle of press freedom and that under the threat of violence, we must not move away from ... press freedom.”

The newspaper had published the comments in an advance report of its Thursday edition.

Danish newspapers had reprinted the cartoons, in solidarity with the paper that first printed them, after police arrested three men on suspicion of plotting to kill a cartoonist who drew one of the images.

Publication of the cartoons two years ago led to protests and rioting in Muslim countries around the world.

At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies were attacked, while there were also boycotts of Danish products.

The reprinting this month again sparked street protests -- although much smaller ones -- in many Muslim countries.

Sudan banned the import of Danish goods, blaming Denmark’s government for allowing the reprints and Egypt called in Denmark’s ambassador to protest.

Reporting by Kerstin Gehmlich, editing by Myra MacDonald