BERLIN -- Flags burned and protesters chanted from Europe to South Asia as outrage over satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad spread yesterday from the Pakistani parliament to the streets of Gaza to a meeting between Danish leaders and Muslim diplomats.
The cartoons reprinted this week in European newspapers lampoon Muhammad, with one showing him as a jihad warrior wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. The caricatures have been condemned by imams as an attack on Islam and have underscored the widening suspicions between Europeans and millions of Muslim immigrants.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen met with ambassadors from Middle East countries in an effort to calm the furor that began in September when the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten first published the cartoons. The 12 drawings have since appeared in newspapers across the continent, becoming emblems in a battle between Western values of free speech and Islamic reverence for the prophet.
"Neither the Danish government nor the Danish nation as such can be held responsible for drawings published in a Danish newspaper," Rasmussen said after the meeting with envoys. "A Danish government can never apologize on behalf of a free and independent newspaper. ... This is basically a dispute between some Muslims and a newspaper."
The prime minister added that there could be "unpredictable repercussions" if the protests escalate.
The Egyptian ambassador to Denmark, Mona Omar Attiah, indicated that Rasmussen should do more to defuse passions.
"I want the prime minister to speak with Jyllands-Posten about getting them to give a real apology," she said after the meeting.
The Pakistani parliament condemned yesterday the cartoons as "blasphemous and derogatory. ... This vicious, outrageous and provocative campaign cannot be justified in the name of freedom of the press."
Danish flags have been burned, and protests, some of them violent, have been staged at European institutions in Indonesia, Gaza, Afghanistan and other countries. Protesters marched following Friday prayers in Baghdad, Iraq, and Tehran, Iran. Boycotts of Danish products across the Middle East are costing Arla Foods, which has operated in the region for nearly 40 years, an estimated $1 million a day, according to the company.
Preaching at Iraqi mosques yesterday, Muslim clerics called on their followers to condemn the cartoons and for the Danish government to issue an apology.
European officials are concerned that Muslim anger could lead to just such extremist attacks, strain nuclear talks with Iran and further trouble relations with the newly elected militant Hamas party in the Palestinian territories.
Sermons and speeches by religious and radical leaders called for bloodshed against the West. At a demonstration organized by Hamas tens of thousands of protesters marched in the streets, some of them chanting: "Those responsible should have their hands cut off."
The drawings, including one that quotes Muhammad as running out of virgins for his suicide bombers, sparked brief protests in Denmark when they were published in September. The controversy grew in recent months after Danish Muslim religious leaders traveled to the Middle East to call attention to what they claimed was an atmosphere of discrimination and insensitivity in Europe. The group delivered copies of the cartoons to clerics in Egypt and Lebanon.
Jeffrey Fleishman writes for the Los Angeles Times.