The storm over satirical caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad originally published in a Danish newspaper continued to swirl Thursday, as Muslim governments and political groups called for international amends.
Arab League Deputy Secretary General Ahmed Ben Helli planned "to ask the United Nations to adopt a binding resolution banning contempt of religious beliefs and providing for sanctions to be imposed on contravening countries or institutions."
Annan voiced concern but sidestepped the call for U.N. action.
He "believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions," said Spokesman Stephane Dujarric in a statement. "The secretary-general also believes in the importance of overcoming misunderstandings and animosities between people of different beliefs and cultural traditions through peaceful dialogue and mutual respect."
The 12 cartoons published last September included images of the prophet with a bomb-shaped turban and refusing suicide bombers entry to heaven. Concerned about idolatry, Islam prohibits any depiction of Mohammed.
The presidents of Afghanistan and Egypt condemned the printing of the images and Bahraini and Syrian officials demanded a formal apology from Denmark. Pakistani school children burned Danish and French flags and chanted "Death to Denmark" and Palestinians surrounded and shuttered the Gaza Strip offices of the European Union.
News outlets across Europe have responded by reprinting the offending drawings repeatedly.
"We're not trying to offend Muslims; simply documenting a highly energized story," said Roger Koppel, editor of Germany's Die Welt, which has run the cartoons three times. "Even religious matters can be subjected to ridicule and satire. This must be understood by the Muslim world."