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Last Updated: Monday, 27 February 2006, 20:13 GMT
EU regrets 'offensive' cartoons
Demonstration in Brussels
The cartoons have prompted anti- Islamophobia protests in Brussels
EU foreign ministers have expressed regret that cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in European papers were found offensive by Muslims.

At a meeting in Brussels they also agreed on a common line of action to rebuild ties with Muslim nations.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said the EU would seek dialogue and mutual understanding.

However, the ministers also defended freedom of speech and condemned the violent response to the cartoons.


"The Council [of EU member states] expresses its deep concern at the events that followed the publication of cartoons in a number of European and other media," the ministers' statement says.

Freedom of expression should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs
Foreign Ministers' statement
It adds: "The Council acknowledges and regrets that these cartoons were considered offensive and distressing by Muslims across the world."

Diplomats said that at least one country, the Netherlands, had at first opposed the decision to express "regret".

The Czech government was also reported to be concerned that apologising would undermine the freedom fo the media.

While they upheld freedom of expression as a fundamental right, the ministers said freedoms "come with responsibilities".

"Freedom of expression should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions. Mutual tolerance and respect are universal values we should all uphold," they said.

Moving forward

Per Stig Moeller, Foreign Minister of Denmark, where the cartoons were first published, told reporters that it was time to move on.

"It is important that we draw a line, that we move forward," he said.

Denmark has sought to calm Muslim anger by promising to hold a religious conference, donate money to a UN agency fighting prejudice and stage a Muslim cultural exhibition.

In a reference to boycotts of Danish products by some Muslims, the ministers' said "boycotts against individual member states are unacceptable".

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