February 21, 2006

Danish PM sees cartoon row calmer, rejects inquiry

By Kim McLaughlin

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark's prime minister said on
Tuesday the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad was
calming down after weeks of violent protest, while he rejected
opposition calls for an inquiry into his handling of the

"It is my impression that the development during the last
few days has gone in the direction of more subdued
demonstrations and statements in large parts of the Muslim
world," said Prime Minister Anders Fog Rasmussen.

But the centre-right leader said at a weekly news
conference that, while calmer, the crisis was far from over.
More than 50 people have been killed and hundreds injured in
protests around the world, with Nigeria as the latest focus of

"It's clear that in several countries...there is a lot of
turbulence and I want to warn against believing that the
solution to these problems will be quick or easy," he said.

The Danish paper Jyllands-Posten first published the
cartoons last September, but Danish Muslims brought them to the
attention of imams in the Middle East in December and January.

Angry Muslims have since set fire to the Danish embassies
in Syria and Lebanon. Newspapers and magazines in Europe and
elsewhere have run the cartoons in defense of free speech.

In a sign that the country feels tensions with the Muslim
world were easing, the Danish foreign ministry announced the
country's ambassador to Indonesia returned to Jakarta on
Tuesday, 10 days after he fled threats linked to the cartoons.

Rasmussen faces growing criticism at home for not acting
quickly to defuse the crisis last year and refusing a request
to meet 11 ambassadors from Muslim countries in October.

Until recently, the criticism was light because the Social
Democrat-led opposition had presented a united front in
Denmark's worst crisis since the World War Two. Opinion polls
suggest most Danes think Rasmussen has handled it well.

But now the opposition has demanded an independent inquiry.

"It's only on the agenda because the opposition wants to
make a party political statement," Rasmussen said. "Diplomats
are working around the clock to seek a solution and we should
let them work in peace and not be burdened by an inquiry into
who knew what and when."

Rasmussen, who has regretted the hurt caused to Muslims but
refuses to apologize on behalf of the paper, said such
questions should be asked in parliament, where his minority
coalition is supported by the anti-immigrant Danish People's
Party (DPP).