COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Danes feared religious processions in Muslim countries would spill into violence against its diplomats and soldiers Thursday, and a lawmaker suggested the government invite Turkey to help quell anger over the Prophet Mohammad drawings.
The Foreign Ministry said it had temporarily closed its diplomatic mission in Beirut, which was burned by protesters Sunday, and all staff had left Lebanon.
The ministry also said it expected one or more demonstrations in Beirut in the next few days and reiterated its advice for all Danes to leave the country.
About 400 Danish citizens decided to stay, many of them of Lebanese origin or married to Lebanese, ministry spokeswoman Lone Andersen said, adding the French Embassy in Beirut had taken over Danish consular activities.
The Danish Broadcasting Corp., or DR, said its journalists in Beirut had been warned to stay away from Shiite ceremonies marking Ashoura, the most revered holiday in Shiite Islam.
“It has become more difficult to be a Danish reporter in the Middle East,” Lisbet Knudsen, head of DR’s news desk said.
The Danish Defense Intelligence Service warned that Ashoura processions in Iraq could turn into political protests against the prophet drawings, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September. Denmark has 530 troops stationed in the southern city of Basra.
“The situation in Basra province is quiet but tense,” Lt. Col. Tommy Kjaer, second in command at the Danish contingent in Iraq, told DR. “We have received more warnings about attacks on the Danish troops, but there have been no attacks.”
He said Danish troops would try to keep a low profile because of the Ashoura ceremonies.
The small Scandinavian country has been shocked to see its embassies attacked and flags burned in several countries as fury over the prophet drawings spreads across the Muslim world.
The images, including one depicting the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb, have been reprinted by newspapers in many other Western countries. Islam is interpreted to forbid any illustrations of the prophet.
Huseyin Arac, a Turkish-born member of the Danish Parliament, suggested giving Turkey a role as a mediator between Denmark and Muslim countries in the conflict. “Some things have happened that have offended many people, but we have to move on. It cannot continue like this,” Arac was quoted as saying by Aarhus Stiftstidende.
“We have a very, very serious problem.” Arac, an opposition lawmaker, has requested to meet Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in person. The prime minister’s office said it welcomes all initiatives to resolve the conflict, but added that any attempts to involve foreign governments should be done through diplomatic channels.
Arac has not released the specifics of his plan, including whether he had approached officials in Turkey.
“I am interested in helping to find a solution but I will not give details to the media before I have spoken to the prime minister,” he told The Associated Press by telephone.
Jyllands-Posten, the paper that first published the drawings, apologized last week for offending Muslims but stood by its decision to print the cartoons, citing the freedom of speech.
The government has rejected calls by Muslims at home and abroad to intervene, saying it has no influence over media.