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Annan Slams Cartoon Publishers, Condemns Violence

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has criticized newspapers that have published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Secretary-General Annan says he cannot understand why any newspaper would publish offensive cartoons of the prophet. "It is insensitive, it is offensive, it is provocative, and they should see what has happened around the world."

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Mr. Annan stressed that he does not oppose freedom of speech or expression. But he described the cartoons as inflammatory. "Freedom of speech is not a license. It does entail exercising responsibility and judgment, and quite honestly I cannot understand why any editor will publish cartoons at this time which inflame, and pour oil on the fire," he said.

The cartoons were first published in a Danish newspaper. They have since been reprinted in publications in more than 20 countries, and are in wide circulation on the Internet.

The publication has caused a violent backlash in the Muslim world. Anti-cartoon demonstrations were held Thursday in at least half a dozen countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week accused Iran and Syria of going "out of their way" to inflame Muslim sentiments. Syria's ambassador to Washington later denied the charge, blaming "rogue elements" for the violent demonstrations in Beirut and Damascus.

Mr. Annan said he did not know whether governments were manipulating the issue for political gain, but he joined President Bush and other world leaders in condemning the violence and appealing for calm. "And whatever the anger of those concerned, violence is not the answer. They should not attack innocent civilians. They should not attack people who are not responsible for the publication of the cartoons. Whether it is a general condemnation of Denmark, or Europeans, it is wrong," he said.

But while criticizing those who published the cartoons, the U.N. chief carefully avoided criticizing the media. He called it "significant" that many major newspapers, many responsible editors around the world did not publish the cartoons. He added "we should not use the behavior of a minority of papers or editors to condemn the entire media and the press."