March 10, 2006

Muslim clerics demand Danish apology to end boycott

By Per Bech Thomsen

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Only an official apology by the
Danish government to all Muslims for offence caused by the
Prophet Mohammad cartoons will prompt the lifting of the
boycott of Danish goods, Muslim preachers said on Friday.

An official apology "is absolutely necessary ... because
your government has not dealt with them (Muslims)
respectfully," Islamic scholar Tareq al-Suweidan told a
conference hosted by the government in an attempt to ease
tension over the drawings.

The cartoons, first printed by a Danish paper last year and
later reprinted elsewhere, provoked a storm of protests among
Muslims, attacks on three Danish embassies and a boycott of
Danish goods in some countries which has hit dairy exports.

If there is no apology, "The scholars of Islam and myself

... I am running an Islamic satellite TV channel, we will
encourage people to continue the boycott," Suweidan said.

Amr Khaled, a preacher whose Cairo-based television shows
are widely watched, said an apology alone was not enough.
"Dialogue and many practical common projects are more
important. We came here to build bridges but it must be two-way
bridges," he told the gathering.

Suweidan said his argument was not with the Danish
cartoonists, who are under police protection after being
threatened, but with their government.

"We are not angry because some of your cartoonists have
drawn our beloved prophet. We are aggravated because of the way
your government has mishandled this situation," he said.

The centre-right Danish government has refused to apologize
on behalf of the newspaper saying it cannot influence the free
press, but it acknowledged that many Muslims had felt gravely
insulted by the controversial drawings.

Suweidan, a Kuwaiti, said the Norwegian government had
apologized after a Norwegian newspaper printed the cartoons in
January. "If they (the Danish government) had just done that,
the problem would not have arrived," he said.

In Norway the editor of the paper Magazinet apologized to
Muslims for hurting them by printing the cartoons, while the
government defended free speech but regretted the insult.

Both Muslim clerics supported free speech but accused the
western world of applying double standards.

"We want the laws in Denmark and the European Union to be
changed, either to have free speech for everyone including on
the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, or to change the law to
respect religious figures like Mohammad," Suweidan said.