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EU Official in Mideast in Effort to Calm Furor Over Cartoons


Europe's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is in the Middle East this week to try to calm outrage over cartoons of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. Meanwhile, an Iranian newspaper is inviting people to submit cartoons on the Holocaust as a way to test press freedom in the West.

Mr. Solana's trip to the Middle East began Monday with a visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities recalled their ambassador from Denmark last month to protest the original publication of the cartoons in a Danish newspaper last September. Solana told reporters that Brussels would do its utmost to ensure a similar event would not happen again - in part, he said, because Europe and the Islamic world need each other.

But Daud Abdullah, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said he doubted whether Solana will be able calm popular anger in the Middle East over the drawings of the prophet.

"He's speaking to governments and political leaders. But the fact of the matter is the people across the Islamic world have taken this issue to heart and are acting as a popular movement," he said. "As you know, political leaders across the Middle East have very little contact with the people. They live in one world and the people live in another."

The publication of the cartoons by a number of European countries has sparked anger, and sometimes violent demonstrations across the Muslim world. The violence appears to have abated somewhat. But on Monday, several thousand students protested against the images in Pakistan. There were also protests by Muslims in Turkey, France and Britain on Saturday and Sunday against the cartoons, which were most recently republished Friday by an anti-immigration group in Finland.

Meanwhile, a series of polls show many Europeans are divided over the images. A survey published Friday in France found that 54 percent of French believe that reprinting the images in the European press amounted to unnecessary provocation. But another poll published in Denmark found that, while most respondents said they understand Muslim anger, fewer than half believe it was wrong for the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, to first publish the images.

Muslims are finding other ways to vent their anger against the cartoons besides demonstrating. Members of France's Muslim Council announced they would take legal action against at least one of five French newspapers which reprinted the cartoons.

And in Iran, a leading newspaper Monday began soliciting cartoons, in English and Persian, about the Holocaust. The paper says it will post the cartoon's on its Internet site. The paper's cartoon editor told The Associated Press that it had done so not as a retaliation against the European publications, but to test press freedom in the West.

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