COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday said Danish authorities have taken “all the necessary steps” to protect the cartoonists behind the Prophet Mohammad drawings that sparked violent protests in the Muslim world.
Fogh Rasmussen defended the government’s handling of Denmark’s biggest crisis since World War II, including his decision not to meet with the ambassadors of 11 Muslim countries who protested the cartoons’ publication in a Danish newspaper in September.
“In Denmark, the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press is not up for negotiation,” he said during his weekly media briefing. “In Denmark, it is the courts who decide this kind of thing and not the government.”
Fogh Rasmussen reiterated that he regrets that Muslims worldwide have been offended by the 12 drawings published in Jyllands-Posten in September, but said his government cannot be held responsible for the actions of an independent newspaper.
He also said security for the cartoonists had been stepped up in light of threats against them and a bounty offered on one of them by a Pakistani cleric. “The Danish authorities have taken all the necessary steps to ensure security for the cartoonists and other individuals,” he said.
Dozens of people have been killed in weeks of raging protests against the drawings in the Muslim world. Denmark has withdrawn its diplomats from Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Indonesia and Pakistan after attacks on Danish embassies in those countries.
Fogh Rasmussen said the government’s contacts with religious and diplomatic leaders in Muslim countries were yielding results, but warned the crisis would take a long time to blow over.
He said the government had received “positive signals” from Saudi Arabia, which had stressed “the need for dialogue and respect between cultures.” “The drawings are no longer an issue between Denmark and the Muslim countries. It is also an issue between the EU and the Muslim countries,” Fogh Rasmussen said, praising efforts by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to defuse the uproar during a Mideast tour last week.
“I think it is evident for everyone that this crisis is no longer about the 12 drawings in Jyllands-Posten,” the Danish leader said. “It’s about everything else and different agendas in the Muslim world. It’s obvious that extremist circles exploit the situation.”
He declined to comment on suggestions in Danish media that Turkey should take a mediating role in the conflict. Jyllands-Posten has apologized for offending Muslims, but stands by its decision to publish the cartoons, citing the freedom of speech.
The caricatures, one of which shows Mohammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, have been republished recently by media worldwide, including in several European newspapers.