CAIRO (AFP) – Denmark’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that the hurt caused to Muslims from cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed was “very regrettable,” after she met Egypt’s top cleric to defuse tensions caused by the re-publication of the caricatures.
Lene Espersen said she and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed al-Tayeb, discussed “how to make sure that the great religions of the world can live peacefully side by side.”
The meeting followed the publication last last month of a book carrying the caricatures, entitled “The Tyranny of Silence.”
The 499-page book does not reprint the drawings separately, but its inside pages features “a picture of the front page of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper that had the Mohammed cartoons on it,” its editor said.
Espersen had met Muslim ambassadors ahead of its release on the fifth anniversary of the cartoons’ publication in the daily Jyllands-Postens, which led to deadly riots in Muslim countries several months later.
Espersen, speaking in English at a press conference in Tayeb’s offices in Cairo, did not mention the book, but said that she understood that “many people living in the Muslim world felt deeply hurt by cartoons that were in Denmark some years ago.”
“I would just like to make it clear that this was something we found very regrettable and didn’t wish to see it repeated,” she said.
“The Danish government respects all religious creeds and communities and condemns any attempt to demonise groups of people on the basis of religion or their ethnic background.”
Tayeb told reporters after the meeting “we have confirmed that what happened was an individual action and the people and government of Denmark are against it and do not accept it.”
The Danish government refused to apologise for the cartoons, one of which depicted the Prophet Mohammed with a lit bomb in his turban, citing freedom of the press.
The drawings sparked protests in January and February 2006 that culminated in the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut, and the death of dozens of people in Nigeria.
An Iraqi Kurd already in custody in Norway on suspicion of planning bombings admitted in September to plotting an attack on the Jyllands-Posten.
Danish police confirmed the Norwegian claim and said Denmark had become a “priority terrorist target for Islamic extremists.”
Danish police last month arrested a Chechen man in connection with a small explosion at a central Copenhagen hotel. Investigators later said he was planning a letter bomb for the Jyllands-Posten.
An analyst said there would probably be no large-scale repeat of the violence, although the build up to the riots took months after the cartoons were first published.
“The meeting will play a large role in calming tensions,” said Dia Rashwan, with the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.