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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 February 2006, 12:10 GMT
Cartoon outrage bemuses Denmark
By Michael Buchanan
BBC News, Copenhagen

Islamic Jihad supporters burn poster in Gaza City
Danish symbols have been burned in protests around the Middle East
The diplomatic crisis between Denmark and the Muslim world may have been relatively slow to gather pace but now that it has, it is having a real impact.

It began with a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper - including one of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb.

But today few people are laughing.

The global outrage has led to the recall of ambassadors; Danish citizens in Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories have been forced to leave after death threats.

And Danish businesses have had to lay off hundreds of workers because of boycotts in the Muslim world. The paper has apologised but the crisis shows no sign of abating.

However, on a winter's evening at an ice rink in Copenhagen young Danes are bemused by the attention their country is receiving because of 12 drawings of the Prophet Muhammad.

"It's ridiculous," says one. "I don't see why the anger - it was a joke, you can see."

No regret

Another adds: "It's a shame it has had to come to this. I think it is very silly of people to draw such things. I think that the freedom of expression is more of an obligation than a right."

"I am not a very religious person so I don't have anything against it and I think it's absolutely too much what the Arabic countries are doing," says a young woman.

Asking me that question is like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt Friday night at the discotheque
Flemming Rose
Jyllands-Posten's culture editor

Just opposite the ice-rink are the Copenhagen offices of the newspaper at the centre of the controversy, the Jyllands-Posten. The building was cleared out by police on Tuesday following a bomb scare.

There was also another threat against the newspaper's headquarters in Aarhus. But despite the threats, the paper insists they were right to publish the cartoons.

"We stand by the publication of these 12 cartoons," says Flemming Rose, culture editor of the Jyllands-Posten.

He was the man who commissioned the cartoons, one of which shows the Prophet with a turban on his head covering a ticking bomb.

But knowing what he knows now, would he still commission and print those cartoons?

"That is a hypothetical question," he says. "I would say that I do not regret having commissioned those cartoons and I think asking me that question is like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt Friday night at the discotheque."

Job cuts

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen does not see this diplomatic crisis in those terms.

At a packed press conference, he said that Denmark had a long tradition of freedom of the press and freedom of expression. But Mr Rasmussen said he regretted the offence caused.

Shoppers in Saudi Arabia have been urged not to buy Danish goods
"I, likewise, am deeply distressed by the fact that these drawings, by many Muslims, have been seen as a defamation of the Prophet Muhammad and Islam as a religion," he said.

"I do hope that the apology of the independent newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, will contribute to comfort those that have been hurt."

For some in Denmark, however, it is already too late.

"If we look at ourselves from a Middle East standpoint, we have been active in the market place in the Middle East for more than 40 years," says Finn Hansen, managing director of Arla Foods.

Arla Foods is one of Europe's largest manufacturers of dairy products. They have had an established market in the Middle East for decades, but a boycott of Danish goods by several Arab nations means that Mr Hansen is now looking to lay off around 100 people.

"We are today in a position where we don't really experience any sale," he says. "Even the few places where our products are still on the shelf, we do not see any turnover of our products on these shelves. So we must say the sale of our products is nil."

Moving on

Of critical importance to the resolution of this crisis will be the decisions made in the headquarters of Copenhagen's Islamic Federation.

Danish Muslims have been protesting as vigorously as anyone in the Middle East about the cartoons. But the group's chairman, Imam Ahmed Abu Laban, says they are now ready to move on.

"I think the latest apology has become more clear and more indicative to the Muslim ears," he said.

"We will support after this press conference to push forward to develop the situation, to settle as soon as possible this kind of dispute and bring the boycott to an end."

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