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Ire continues to spread over cartoons

By ELIZABETH BRYANT   |   Feb. 3, 2006 at 12:33 PM   |   Comments

PARIS, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- As ire over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed continued to spread across the Muslim world Friday, a French Muslim organization has said it will press charges against local newspapers that published the controversial cartoons.

Fuad Alaoui, first vice-president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, called on other Muslim groups to join in pressing charges.

"It's very symbolic that all components of the French Muslim council say in a single voice that they don't accept what is happening," Alaoui said in an interview on France Info radio.

Earlier Friday, France's leftist Liberation newspaper joined others in Belgium and Italy in reprinting the Danish cartoons, which were first published in September.

Joining a growing statement on behalf of press freedom by European media, Liberation reprinted two of the images Friday, but the newspaper noted in its editorial it had deliberately chosen not to publish the most controversial of the dozen cartoons -- one portraying the Muslim prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb -- that first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September.

In an editorial, the newspaper said it did not want to "make the inadmissible confusion between all Muslims and terrorists."

The Friday edition of France's Le Monde newspaper also printed a cartoon on its front page -- not one of the Danish series, but its own summing up the situation: It showed a hand holding a pen shaped like a minaret, with presumably a Muslim cleric scowling down. The hand was drawing the prophet, made up of the words, written over and over: "I must not draw Mohammed."

The latest reprints of the cartoons -- joining those published earlier this week in news media across Europe -- helped fuel demonstrations across the Muslim world Friday, the Islamic day of prayer.

Demonstrators pelted eggs at the Danish embassy in Indonesia, and staged protest rallies in Iraq, French and other media reported. Palestinian militants also staged protests, and hurled a homemade bomb at the French cultural center in Gaza.

Morocco and Tunisia have both banned another French newspaper, France-Soir, which reprinted all 12 of the Danish cartoons earlier this week, France's L'Express magazine reported on its Web site. And Tunisia's President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali criticized both European newspapers for printing the images and religious extremists for overreacting to them.

Although France-Soir's Egyptian-French owner fired his managing editor late Wednesday, the newspaper's editorial team continued to defend its decision to print the images to uphold free expression.

Meanwhile, in France and elsewhere, political and religious leaders mixed support for press liberty with calls for moderation.

"We are attached to democracy, to liberty, which is at the core of what our country is founded on," French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Friday. "But also to the need for respect. And that's why we hope to conciliate the two -- to try to avoid what could hurt needlessly, and particularly in the realm of religious convictions -- all religious convictions."

French President Jacques Chirac sent a similar message later in the day.

But in London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw took a tougher line. "I believe that the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful, it has been wrong," Straw said in remarks broadcast on the BBC.

Straw singled out the British media for showing "considerable responsibility" in largely refraining from reprinting the images -- though the BBC and ITV broadcast them briefly Thursday.

The cartoons were first printed in a Danish newspaper last September. But ire over the images has only grown in recent weeks, after a Norwegian newspaper reprinted them, and followed more recently by other European media.

Muslim leaders in Europe have joined those in Islamic nations in criticizing the decision to reprint the cartoons -- albeit in more muted tones.

"These newspaper editors should have exercised better judgment," Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, said on British radio Friday, echoing similar remarks by Islamic leaders in France and elsewhere. "This situation is ripe for exploitation by extremists."

And in France, leaders from other religions joined in to criticize the cartoons.

"We must not go beyond certain limits," France's Chief Rabbi, Joseph Sitruk, told France Info radio Friday. "I don't believe in either the prophets of Islam or Christianity. But it would never occur to me to flout or make fun of them. I think our societies need to learn respect."

But, Sitruk added, "We also can't justify violence and threats, which also don't come from God or a believer."

Whether or not to reprint the cartoons has divided international media. Even as growing numbers of European newspapers and broadcasters republish the images in the name of free press, others -- notably in Britain -- have refrained from doing so.

And in an interview published in Le Monde Friday, Wadah Khanfar, director of the Arabic al-Jazeera satellite channel, joined other Arab media in denouncing the cartoons as an "insult" toward Muslims.

"We profoundly respect free expression, it's a very important need, particularly in the Arab world," Khanfar told Le Monde. But, he said the caricatures "give absolutely no information, offer no opinion. They are purely insulting."

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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