February 27, 2006

EU says it regrets Muslims offended by cartoons

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said it regretted
Muslims had found cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad offensive
but denounced violence directed against EU citizens in reprisal
attacks over the images.

The cartoons first published last year in a Danish
newspaper and since reprinted in other European papers sparked
worldwide protests by Muslims who believe it is blasphemous to
depict the Prophet. Dozens have died in violence related to the
protests from Africa to Asia.

Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels issued a statement on
Monday regretting "that these cartoons were considered
offensive and distressing by Muslims across the world."

It added that the EU "strongly condemns all violent acts
and threats against citizens and property of the European
Union, of its member states as well as of other countries."

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller told a news
briefing on Monday after talks with EU counterparts in Brussels
he hoped to move beyond the crisis.

"It is important that we draw a line, that we move forward.
It is good for Denmark that the EU Council has strongly
condemned the violence," he said of attacks on Danish and other
EU missions in a number of Muslim countries.

Diplomats said the decision to issue regrets came despite
reluctance from countries such as the Netherlands.

They also noted the statement did not go as far as one
issued at the weekend by the United Nations, the heads of the
Arab League states, and the 57-member Organization of the
Islamic Conference.

That statement noted members "deeply" regretted the offence
caused by the caricatures.

Denmark has declined to apologize on behalf of the
newspaper which originally printed the cartoons. But it has
sought to calm Muslim anger by saying it will hold a religious
conference, make a donation to a U.N. agency fighting prejudice
and stage a Muslim cultural exhibition.

Its ambassador to Syria was due to return to Damascus,
almost three weeks after Muslims set fire to the embassy to
protest against the cartoons.