Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Denmark Threatened Over Mohammad Cartoons

Denmark warned citizens on Monday not to go to Saudi Arabia and Gaza gunmen said any Scandinavians who came there would face attack, as Muslim fury mounted over newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. Denmark has defended the newspaper Jyllands-Posten's right to publish the satirical drawings that seemed to portray the prophet as a terrorist and which a Norwegian paper has run too.
Some Muslims, who deem images of prophets disrespectful and caricatures blasphemous, have reacted angrily, threatening Danes and demanding an apology. Saudi Arabia has recalled its envoy from Denmark and its religious leaders have called for the boycott of Danish products. Libya has closed its Copenhagen embassy, and thousands of Palestinians marched in protest on Monday. Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen informed on Monday his colleagues in the European Union about the issue and the bloc's executive body, the Commission, said it might complain to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) about the Saudi boycott of Danish goods if the government had encouraged it.
The Danish Foreign Ministry warned against non-crucial travel to Saudi Arabia and urged Danes to be cautious in other Muslim countries such as Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Algeria, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories. "In the current situation where the drawings of the Prophet Mohammad have caused strong negative reactions among Muslims, Danes who choose to stay in Saudi Arabia should show extraordinarily high watchfulness," it added on its Web site. The Danish Red Cross said it had pulled two employees out of Gaza and one from Yemen, and Norway's Foreign Ministry said two Norwegian aid workers in Gaza were planning to leave on Monday.
Sweden also warned its citizens against travelling to Gaza and the West Bank and the Swedish consulate in Jerusalem received a fax claiming to be from Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades demanding that all Danes and Swedes leave the area. "All Swedes and Danes that exist on our soil have 48 hours to leave our country or else," according to the fax read to Reuters by a consulate official. Swedish officials said they were taking the threat seriously even if it might be the result of being confused with Denmark.
Dozens of Palestinians armed with rifles and grenade launchers rallied outside the EU headquarters in Gaza City, demanding an apology and warning Danes and Norwegians they would be at risk in Gaza. Some of the gunmen fired in the air, while others burned Danish and Norwegian flags. Hamas, the militant Islamic group which won Palestinian elections last week, urged Islamic countries to take "deterrent steps against idiotic Danish behaviour".
"We call on Muslim nations to boycott all Danish products because the Danish people supported the hateful racism under the pretext of freedom of expression," it said in a statement. A Web site often used by militant groups in Iraq also called for a consumer boycott. Hardest hit by the boycott is Danish-Swedish dairy product maker Arla Foods, with annual sales of 3 billion Danish crowns ($487 million) in the Middle East. The world's biggest maker of insulin, Novo Nordisk , also said it was affected. Denmark's Rasmussen refused on Sunday to apologise, defending the right of free speech and saying he could not influence the media, but he condemned attempts "to demonise people because of religious beliefs".
The world's biggest Muslim body, the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has condemned the cartoons but called on Muslims to stick to peaceful protest. The Danish-Palestinian Friendship Association said the threats were "reprehensible". "They forget that the Nordic countries are among the biggest donors to Palestine and do a lot of social work in the area," a spokesman said. Many ordinary Saudis have started boycotting Danish products and across the Gulf, several supermarkets pulled Scandinavian foods off the shelves after consumers complained. Egypt is also considering recalling its Copenhagen envoy, Danish media quoted Egypt's ambassador for saying. The 12 cartoons were published by Jyllands-Posten in September, but the row only erupted this month. One showed him wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.