Mohamed cartoons provoke bomb threats against Danish newspaper

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The Independent Online

A Danish newspaper suffered bomb scares a day after apologising for cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed which prompted protests from Muslims and a boycott of Danish products in a dozen nations.

The offices of Jyllands-Posten in Copenhagen and Arhus were evacuated as the storm continued over its publication last September of a series of 12 satirical cartoons regarded by many Muslims as blasphemous.

In Gaza, demonstrators burnt Danish flags, chanting "War on Denmark, Death to Denmark" while a boycott of Danish goods spread from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to states throughout the Middle East and north Africa. Saudi Arabia has already recalled its ambassador from Copenhagen and Libya has closed its embassy. Sudan is the latest nation to join the boycott of Danish goods which has forced the Danish-based dairy Arla Foods to close its plant in Riyadh. The EU has intervened, warning Saudi Arabia that, if it encourages the boycott, it will be in breach of its obligations in the World Trade Organisation.

The cartoons included one that showed Mohamed wearing a bomb in place of a turban. Any visual depiction of the Prophet is considered to be blasphemy, according to the teachings of Islam.

Stunned by the scale of the reaction, the newspaper - which received 9,000 e-mails on the subject in one day - moved to defuse the row with an appeal published on its website. Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief, said in the open letter, which was also published in Arabic: "In our opinion, the 12 drawings were sober. They were not intended to be offensive, nor were they at variance with Danish law, but they have indisputably offended many Muslims for which we apologise."

Under the headline "Honourable Citizens of the Muslim World", the editor defended the publication, arguing: "The initiative was taken as part of an ongoing public debate on freedom of expression, a freedom much cherished in Denmark." The apology, which has prompted a fierce debate over freedom of expression, was welcomed by the Danish premier, Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He said: "I'm extremely happy that Jyllands-Posten has decided to take this very difficult step. I would now like to appeal to Muslim groups in Denmark to speak out and defuse the situation after Jyllands-Posten's apology."

Peder Tuborgh, chief executive of Arla, said the row had taken on a life of its own, causing a complete collapse of sales. "'I would ask the government to immediately enter a positive dialogue with the many millions of Muslims who feel offended by Denmark. I'm not sure if we have been quick enough at home to understand the scope of this."

Arla is one of the largest dairy producers in the world, with more than 800 staff in Saudi Arabia. The Danish Foreign Ministry advised against non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia and urged Danes to be cautious in other Muslim countries. "Danes who choose to stay in Saudi Arabia should show extraordinarily high watchfulness," it said.

The cartoons were reprinted by Magazinet, a Norwegian Christian newspaper, whose editor, Vebjorn Selbekk, also said he "regrets if the drawings were offensive to Muslims".