U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is making an unexpected trip to the Middle East this week in a personal effort to calm Muslims' violent reaction to cartoons that insult the Prophet Muhammad.
A United Nations spokesman in New York says Mr. Annan made a last-minute decision late Monday to travel to the Gulf to take part in the Alliance of Civilizations. The gathering in Doha, Qatar is intended to counter prejudice and overcome misunderstandings between different cultures and religions.
The secretary-general will be in Qatar Sunday for the opening session of the U.N.-sponsored meeting. Mr. Annan intends to address issues raised by the recent publication of caricatures portraying Muhammad as a terrorist, his spokesman says, and he will call for mutual understanding and respect between people of different faiths and traditions.
The U.N. chief hopes to meet with a number of European and Islamic leaders attending the three-day meeting in Qatar. He also met Monday in New York with a group of about six ambassadors from the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference. Officials say they discussed an OIC proposal to condemn "the defamation of religions and prophets" as part of a plan to replace the U.N. Human Rights Commission with a new Human Rights Council.
The Muslim nations contend the right of free expression should not include statements or actions that defame religious groups. Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.