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Last Updated: Monday, 20 February 2006, 16:43 GMT
Al-Qaeda 'will use cartoon row'
Protests in the city of Peshawar. File photo
Muslims around the world have been angered by the cartoons
Al-Qaeda will try to exploit the Muslim uproar over cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller has warned.

He also said a $1m (573,000) offer by a cleric in Pakistan to anyone who killed one of the cartoonists was incitement to murder and "un-Islamic".

The cartoons, first printed in Denmark, have angered Muslims worldwide. At least 44 people have died in protests.

Islamic tradition prohibits any depiction of Allah or the Prophet.

In other developments:

  • The head of Pakistan's six-party Islamic coalition vows to continue street protests and says he is aiming at bringing down President Musharraf's government

  • Pope Benedict XVI says "it is both vital and urgent that religions and their symbols are respected and that believers are not the object of provocations"

  • Iran's foreign minister calls for an end to violent protests over the drawings

  • Russia's newspaper that reprinted the caricatures, Nash Region, is shut down by its owners.

'Fanning the fire'

Mr Moeller told a news conference in Copenhagen it was "the extremist forces that wish to keep... [the situation] going".

Nigeria - at least 16
Afghanistan - at least 12
Libya - 11
Pakistan - 5

"All extremists will exploit the situation. Al-Qaeda, too, will use it and fan the fire," he said.

Mr Moeller also condemned the $1m bounty put on the cartoonist's head by Peshawar cleric Maulana Yousaf Qureshi and his followers on Friday.

"It's murder and murder is also forbidden by the Koran," Mr Moeller said.

"Islam is also a religion of peace, mercy and forgiveness. That is why it is my opinion, but also the opinion of many Muslims, this is un-Islamic," he added.

Mr Qureshi last week defended his move.

"If the West can place a bounty on Osama Bin Laden and Zawahiri, we can also announce a reward for killing the man who has caused this sacrilege of the holy Prophet," he said, referring to the al-Qaeda leader and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Envoy returns

Meanwhile, the Danish cartoonist behind some of the drawings has said he has no regrets.

Kurt Westergaard has gone into hiding since the Pakistani cleric offered a bounty for his death.

Last week, he told Scotland's The Herald newspaper he had not anticipated the controversy sparked by his work.

He said the cartoons were intended as a protest against double standards in Denmark and Western Europe - a reference to perceived taboos in addressing aspects of Islam.

Denmark's ambassador to Pakistan has returned to his home country.

The Danish foreign ministry said it was "practically impossible for him to do his job under the current circumstances".

The Danish embassy in Islamabad was temporarily closed on Friday.

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