February 15, 2008 / 4:43 PM / in 11 years

Danish imams urge calm as cartoon protests mount

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Danish Muslim preachers sought to soothe Muslim anger on Friday after newspapers reprinted a drawing of the Prophet Mohammad which caused outrage in Islamic countries two years ago.

Danish papers republished one of the drawings of Mohammad on Wednesday in protest against what they said was a plot to murder the cartoonist who drew it.

Mostafa Chendid, an imam at the Islamic Faith Community, said Danish media had confused freedom of expression with the freedom to insult others.

But he called for all Muslims to “cool down” and “turn “the other cheek,” rather than pursue a violence, saying this would harm Islam the same way the cartoons had.

“We are trying to dampen the anger,” he said at Friday prayers at a mosque in northern Copenhagen.

Chendid’s group was at the centre of the first controversy after the cartoons were first published in 2005, helping organize a delegation to the Middle East to present a dossier of alleged Danish insults against Islam.

Several hundred Muslims gathered in central Copenhagen on Friday to protest the publication of the cartoon, shouting “God is great,” as they marched.

Thousands of supporters of the Islamist group Hamas protested in the Gaza Strip against the reprinting.

ARRESTS

A Danish citizen of Moroccan descent and two Tunisians were arrested earlier this week for planning to murder 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard, a cartoonist at Jyllands-Posten, the Danish paper that originally published the drawings in September 2005.

The Moroccan man has since been released but still faces charges. The Tunisians were remanded in custody.

Chendid deplored the planned deportation of the Tunisians, saying there was no proof of their guilt. Under Denmark’s anti-terrorism laws, introduced after the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, foreign citizens can be expelled without a full legal review.

Five leading Danish daily newspapers and more than 10 smaller papers have reprinted Westergaard’s cartoon, which shows the Prophet Mohammad with a bomb in his turban. Most Muslims consider any depiction of the Prophet as offensive.

Imam Abdul Wahid Pedersen, a converted Danish Muslim, called for dialogue. “I will take my starting point in some verses in the Koran that call for calm and considered discussions and law-abidingness,” he told Danish state radio.

Dozens of Islamist students burned the Danish flag in southern Pakistan on Thursday, while in Kuwait, several parliamentarians called for a boycott of Danish goods.

Denmark’s foreign ministry on Thursday advised Danes to avoid unnecessary travel to Pakistan.

Three Danish embassies were attacked and at least 50 people were killed in rioting in 2006 in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Since then, several young Muslims have been convicted in Denmark of planning bomb attacks, partly in protest at the cartoons.

Reporting by Kim McLaughlin; Additional reporting by Martin Dahl; Editing by Dominic Evans

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