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Dutch lawmaker cancels Mohammad cartoon contest over safety concerns

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said on Thursday he was cancelling plans to hold a contest for cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammad, saying the danger of violence against innocent people was too great.

FILE PHOTO: Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders appears in court for his appeal against a conviction for inciting discrimination accusing prosecutors of trying to destroy his right to free speech, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

In a published statement he said he would never personally stop his campaign against Islam but the risk to innocents, and of attacks on the Netherlands, stemming from the proposed contest were too great.

“My point about the intolerant nature of Islam has been proved again by this,” he said.

Earlier this week, Dutch police arrested a 26-year-old man suspected of threatening to attack Wilders over his plan.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan thousands of people demonstrated against the contest, in a march organized by Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which also called on Pakistan and other Islamist countries to sever all ties with the Netherlands.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban urged Afghan soldiers on Thursday to attack Dutch troops serving in the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in retaliation for what it called a blasphemous action and a hostile act by the Netherlands against all Muslims. The Afghan Taliban statement was issued shortly before Wilders canceled the contest.

Images of Prophet Mohammad are traditionally forbidden in Islam as idolatrous. Caricatures are regarded by most Muslims as highly offensive.

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In 2005, Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Mohammad that sparked a wave of protest across the Muslim world and several attempts to kill either its editor or cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

Ten years later, a pair of Islamists stormed the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, known for publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet, and killed 12 people.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week defended Wilders’ right to stage the contest, saying it fell within the boundaries of freedom of speech, but also stressed the plan was not a government initiative.

Wilders’ anti-Islam Freedom Party became the second largest in the Netherlands at last year’s general elections, but is not part of the government. Wilders had planned to hold the contest in his party’s offices in the parliament building.

Reporting by Toby Sterling and Bart Meijer; Editing by Peter Graff