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Muslims Voice Anger Over Cartoons Mocking Prophet Mohammed

Muslims around the world are protesting the publication of 12 caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. The drawings were first printed in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September, but several European newspapers have since reprinted them, saying it is a matter of free speech, not religious beliefs.

In Jerusalem, hundreds of angry worshippers gathered at the al Aqsa Mosque compound after Friday prayers and burned the flag of Denmark, where the cartoons first appeared.

In Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population, dozens of members of the hard-line Muslim group, the Defenders of Islam, or F.P.I., pushed past security guards into the lobby of the Danish embassy in Jakarta demanding to speak to the ambassador.

Demonstrators also took to the streets in Turkey, Iran, Britain and Bahrain. They, like many other Muslims around the world, are outraged over the cartoons, which they say are deeply offensive. They are also angry because their faith forbids depicting images of the Prophet, for fear it may lead to idolatry.

One drawing shows the Prophet Mohammed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. Another shows him turning away suicide bombers from Paradise, saying there are no more virgins.

The United States expressed offense at the cartoons, but defended the right of the publications to print the cartoons, saying freedom of expression is a core principle of democracy. "While we share the offense that Muslims have taken at these images, we at the same time vigorously defend the right of individuals to express points of view. We may not agree with those points of view; we may condemn those points of view; but we respect and emphasize ... that those individuals have the right to express those points of view," said U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw criticized the decision of a number of European publications to reprint the cartoons. "The republication of these cartoons has been unnecessary; it has been insensitive, it has been disrespectful and it has been wrong," he said.

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.

Media groups have defended the cartoons' publication, arguing press freedom means publishing all kinds of opinions, even ones that some might consider shocking or defamatory.

In addition to street protests, Muslims have channeled their anger into a boycott of Danish-made products. Several Arab governments have also withdrawn their ambassadors from Denmark.

In Copenhagen, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen tried to calm tensions, meeting Friday with more than 70 diplomats from Muslim countries. He said he is deeply distressed at the reaction to the drawings, but offered no apology for their publication.