February 13, 2006

Danish Muslim leader says “move on” over cartoons

By Kim McLaughlin and Per Bech Thomsen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A senior member of Denmark's Muslim
community urged followers on Monday to "move on" in the row
over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad after holding crisis
talks with Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

"The majority of Muslims may feel offended by the cartoons
as they link Islam with terrorism, but let's take it easy and
move on now," Naser Khader, a member of parliament and founder
of a new group called Democratic Muslims, told reporters.

Khader said a few fundamentalist clerics had set the agenda
on behalf of all Danish Muslims and said his network of around
700 members was more broadly representative.

Rasmussen asked for a meeting with Democratic Muslims after
the conservative government accused some local Muslim leaders
of showing the cartoons to Muslims in the Middle East in an
effort to fan the flames of the scandal.

"All participants had valuable proposals and assessments of
not just the actual situation, but also with regard to Danish
integration policy," Rasmussen said after the meeting.

For the past two weeks, Rasmussen has battled to control
Muslim outrage over the cartoons. There have been protests in
Denmark and violence across the Muslim world with Danish
diplomatic missions attacked in Syria, Lebanon and Iran.

In Pakistan on Monday, police fired tear gas and charged
protesters with batons as several thousand students staged
further demonstrations against the cartoons, first published in
Denmark in September and since reprinted across Europe and much
of the rest of the world.

In response to the cartoons, one of which portrayed the
Prophet with his turban shaped like a bomb, Iran has called on
cartoonists to produce drawings satirising the Holocaust.


Other Muslim countries have produced similar responses.

A small newspaper in largely Muslim Azerbaijan published a
derogatory caption over a picture of Jesus Christ in what the
editor said on Monday was a response to thew Danish

The caption in the Eni Khabar weekly, which has a
circulation of just 2,700, included derogatory references to
the birth of Christ and his mother Mary.

"We took this step as a worthy and equal response to the
Danish newspaper that insulted the name of the Prophet
Mohammad," Editor-in-Chief Faik Balabeili said.

Since the protests erupted, Rasmussen has tried to drum
home the message that Denmark is a tolerant society with
respect for religious freedom -- but also for freedom of
speech. He has not apologized on behalf of the independent
Jyllands-Posten newspaper which first commissioned the images.

Arab fury at the West intensified on Monday after video
footage of British soldiers beating Iraqi youths was aired,
adding to the tension created by the caricatures.

The row with Muslims all over the world has drawn new
support to the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party, the
country's third-biggest political party and an ally in
parliament of Fogh Rasmussen's centre-right government.

In a new survey, the Danish People's Party stood to win
nearly 18 percent of votes, 3.6 points up from a similar poll a
month earlier and compared to the 13 percent it won in the last
general election in 2005, pollster Ramboll Management said.

Rasmussen's government relies on the party to win votes in
parliament and has pushed through legislation to clamp down on
immigration since 2001 in an effort to maintain its support.

A Danish court sentenced a local radio station host to two
weeks in prison for promoting racism and ethnic hatred in a
July broadcast last year in which he called for the expulsion
of all Muslims from Denmark.