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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 February 2006, 18:55 GMT
Muhammad cartoons 'global crisis'
Protesters in Tehran

Denmark's PM has described the row over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as a "global crisis", as he called for Muslims to refrain from violence.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen said extremists seeking "a clash of cultures" were exploiting the dispute over the images, which first appeared in Denmark.

Protests continued worldwide on Tuesday, spreading to West Africa.

In Afghanistan at least three demonstrators died as they tried to storm a Norwegian-led base.

The satirical cartoons - which have been reproduced in a number of European newspapers - have been denounced throughout the Islamic world. They include an image portraying Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

Islamic tradition explicitly prohibits any depiction of Allah and the Prophet.

'False picture'

Mr Rasmussen told a news conference in Copenhagen "we are now facing a growing global crisis" over the cartoons.

CARTOON ROW
30 Sept 2005: Danish paper publishes cartoons
20 Oct: Muslim ambassadors complain to Danish PM
10 Jan 2006: Norwegian publication reprints cartoons
26 Jan: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador
30 Jan: Gunmen raid EU's Gaza office demanding apology
31 Jan: Danish paper apologises
1 Feb: Papers in France, Germany, Italy and Spain reprint cartoons
4 Feb: Syrians attack Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus
5 Feb: Protesters sack Danish embassy in Beirut

He urged Muslims to refrain from violence, saying the row was being exploited by extremists.

"We need to resolve this issue through dialogue, not violence," he said.

He condemned the attacks on Danish embassies by Muslim protesters angered by the cartoons.

"The Danish people are not enemies of Islam," he insisted.

"We're seeing ourselves characterised as an intolerant people or as enemies of Islam as a religion. That picture is false. Extremists and radicals who seek a clash of cultures and religions are spreading it," Mr Rasmussen said.

"[This] is a very unpleasant situation for Danes, we're not used to this," he added.

Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen
I want to appeal and reach out to all people and countries in the Muslim world - let us work together in the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance
Anders Fogh Rasmussen

He thanked international leaders who had offered support, including US President George W Bush, who "called to express support and solidarity with Denmark", the PM said.

Earlier, Denmark said it held Iran responsible after its Tehran embassy was attacked by hundreds of people protesting about the cartoons.

Iran has banned Danish imports and halted trade ties.

European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said it was considering its response as "a boycott of Danish goods is by definition a boycott of European goods".

The European Union is Iran's main trading partner, although only 170 million euros ($204m; 116m) of the 11.8 billion euro trade in 2004 was with Denmark.

Separately, a Danish aid group has suspended operations in war-torn Chechnya after the Russian-backed administration there banned all Danish organisations.

The Danish Refugee Council, which provides food to tens of thousands in Chechnya, said it hoped the suspension would be temporary.

Base stormed

The anti-Danish protests have been repeated across the Muslim world, and have led to at least eight deaths in Afghanistan and one in Somalia.

The latest three deaths in Afghanistan came on Tuesday in an exchange of gunfire with Afghan police and Nato peacekeepers in the north-western town of Meymaneh, witnesses said.

Nato peacekeepers sent 120 British reinforcements to the town after hundreds of Afghans protesting at the cartoons attacked a Norwegian-led base.

At least 30 people were hurt, the director of health for Faryab province told the BBC.

A Nato spokeswoman said the crowd tried to break into the compound, where about 100 soldiers from Norway and Finland are based.

She said Nato troops fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse the protesters, but the troops did not fire into the crowd. Protesters threw stones and at least one hand grenade in response, she said.

The provincial deputy governor, Sayed Ahmad Sayed, told AFP news agency that Afghan police had opened fire in response to gunfire from the crowd.

But a senior Afghan police officer, Muhammad Naim, denied to the BBC that police had shot the demonstrators.

Nato said order had been restored by early evening.

On Tuesday, Nato insisted its planned expansion of 6,000 extra troops into restive southern and western areas this summer would go ahead despite the protests.

Global protests

Protests have also spread in Africa.

Lawmakers in mainly-Muslim Kano, in northern Nigeria, burnt Danish flags.

Tens of thousands of Muslims protested peacefully in Niamey, the capital of Niger, waving placards reading "Down with Denmark and her allies".

In other tension:

  • About 5,000 people take to the streets in Peshawar in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province

  • Several hundred Muslims protest in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir

  • Hundreds of Muslims gather in Cotabato, in the southern Philippines, demanding Denmark punish the newspaper that initially published the cartoons

  • Norway demands compensation from Syria after its embassy in Damascus is set on fire on Saturday

  • In Indonesia, protesters target the Danish and US consulates in Surabaya, the country's second-largest city. Protests are also held in the capital, Jakarta




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