Anger as Paris newspaper prints cartoon of Prophet

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The Independent Online

French Muslim leaders protested vehemently after the newspaper France-Soir reprinted 12 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed, one showing the Prophet with a turban shaped like a bomb.

Dalil Boubakeur, president of the French Muslim Council, described the printing of the cartoons in a country with 5,000,000 citizens of Muslim background as "a true provocation".

Another Muslim leader accused the struggling tabloid newspaper of "trying to solve its financial problems on the backs of French Muslims".

France-Soir said it had printed the drawings, originally commissioned by the Danish newspaper Jylands-Posten, to contribute to a "worldwide debate on how to balance democracy and freedom of expression with respect for religious belief".

The cartoons caused a storm of protest in the Islamic world. Both Saudi Arabia and Syria's ambassadors to Copenhagen have been withdrawn and there have been demonstrations in Palestine.

France-Soir said some of the cartoons might seem insulting or in bad taste but "no religious dogma should be imposed on a democratic and secular society".

Two German newspapers, Die Welt and Berliner Zeitung, also printed the cartoons, defending their "right to blasphemy".

The Danish newspaper said it commissioned the cartoons to test Denmark's commitment to freedom of expression. All representations of the Prophet Mohamed are banned in the Islamic world. But most of the Islamic anger has been focused on three cartoons which appear to associate the Prophet directly with violence.

Jean-Baptiste Mattei, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, distanced the government from the printing of the cartoons but defended France-Soir's right to publish them.

The decision to print the drawings was "the newspaper's responsibility alone". France upheld the principle of press freedom but M. Mattei said this should be "exercised in a spirit of tolerance and respect for religious beliefs".