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Anger Growing in Europe Over Controversial Cartoon Images


Several more European newspapers have added to a growing controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed by reprinting the caricatures of the Muslim prophet Friday. Anger over the images is not only growing in the Muslim world, but in Europe as well.

France's leftist Liberation newspaper joined others in Belgium and Italy Friday by reprinting the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that first surfaced in a Danish newspaper last September. Media around Europe this week have decided to republish the images in the name of free speech.

But their decision has sparked uproar in the Muslim world - which continued to grow on Friday.

In Iraq, thousands of demonstrators protested against the cartoons following Friday prayer services. Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric joined other Muslim leaders in denouncing the cartoons. Similar protests erupted in the Palestinian territories, where an angry mob burned Danish flags in Nablus. Palestinian militants also lobbed a home-made bomb at the French cultural center in Gaza. Nobody was injured. The violence has prompted some Europeans to leave Gaza and the West Bank.

Demonstrations also took place in Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan Friday. Muslim politicians have also expressed their anger at the images, but in more diplomatic tones.

The United States has also denounced the cartoons as an unacceptable incitement to religious or ethnic hatred. State Department spokesman Justin Higgins said the "cartoons are indeed offensive to the beliefs of Muslims."

The controversy has spread to Europe as well. In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized the decision of a number of European publications to reprint the cartoons.

"I believe the republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary, it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," he said.

Mr. Straw praised the British media for showing what he called "considerable responsibility," and refraining from reprinting the cartoons. But BBC television briefly broadcast them on Thursday.

In France, President Jaques Chirac balanced the right of free speech with the need to respect the values of others. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin offered a similar reaction in remarks, Friday.

Mr. de Villepin said his country was founded on democracy and liberty. But he said respect is also necessary - and a concern for not needlessly doing harm particularly, when it came to religious convictions.

Like their counterparts elsewhere, a number of religious leaders in Europe have also denounced the reprinting of the cartoons.

Inayat Bunglawala, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, condemned acts and even words of violence from Muslims in reaction to the cartoons. But he also told British radio Friday that newspapers should have exercised better judgment.

"This is a situation that extremists will be looking to exploit and it is important that this row is defused and the way forward is for these newspapers to recognize the hurt they have caused and say so plainly," he said.

And in France, the Union of Islamic Organizations said it would press charges against the French newspapers that have published the images. French Catholic as well as Jewish leaders joined Muslims in criticizing the reprinting of the cartoons.

France's Chief Rabbi Joseph Sitruk told France Info radio that while he did not believe in either Christian or Muslim prophets, it would never occur to him to make fun of them. "Our societies need to learn respect," he said. But Rabbi Sitruk also said violence and threats in reaction to the cartoons cannot be justified either.

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