February 13, 2006

Denmark must apologize for cartoons: Syria

By Samia Nakhoul

LONDON (Reuters) - The Danish government should offer an
official apology to Muslims over "irresponsible" cartoons of
the Prophet Mohammad to avoid a clash of civilizations, Syria's
ambassador to London said on Monday.

"I think it is high time for the Danish government, in
order to avoid a clash of civilizations, to express itself more
vehemently against these irresponsible caricatures and present
an official apology to the believers of the Islamic faith,"
Sami Khiyami told Reuters in an interview.

He said his government had apologized to Denmark and
offered to pay compensation for the torching of the Danish
embassy during protests over the cartoons in Damascus earlier
this month. But he said protesters had surprised security
officials when they set fire to the Danish and Norwegian

"What happened is that they (security forces) didn't expect
the demonstration to take this dimension and they were
surprised with the fervor at which the demonstrators wanted to
harm the symbols of Denmark," he said.

Khiyami said Arab ambassadors in Copenhagen had asked for a
meeting with the Danish foreign minister shortly after the
cartoons were first published in a Danish newspaper in
September but that their request was declined.

"Had there been such a meeting in October or November the
crisis would have been defused by a simple statement from the
Danish Foreign Ministry," he said.

The 12 cartoons, which have been reprinted across Europe,
have triggered a storm of protests worldwide by enraged Muslims
who view any portrayal of their Prophet as blasphemous, let
alone images which depict him as a terrorist.

Angry protesters have attacked the Danish and Norwegian
missions in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran over the cartoons.

Danes have found themselves in the eye of the storm, with
Danish goods boycotted in several Muslim countries.

Denmark has withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Indonesia
and Iran because of threats to their security, and from Syria,
citing inadequate security provision by the Syrian authorities.

Khiyami said the Danish government's stance was ambiguous.

"It wanted to reconcile between its rightist factions and
at the same time show that liberty of expression was honored
but it went into a terrain that backfired," he said.

In a bid to turn the tide in the cartoon furor, European
Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana began a tour in the
Middle East by visiting Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam.

"Be sure we are going to do our utmost for this not to
happen again, because we need each other," Solana said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has accused Syria
and Iran of deliberately stoking Muslim anger against the West
over the cartoons and said violence could get out of control.

But Khiyami said: "Some people in the U.S. administration
are just piling up pressure against Syria while they know it
has nothing to do with any of these acts. However, anything
that would help the U.S. administration campaign against Syria
is welcomed by the administration."