COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) – Right-wing extremists planned to demonstrate Saturday in protest of the recent burning of Danish flags in the Middle East, a gathering that could sharply increase tensions with Muslims.
The demonstration in Hilleroed, 35 kilometers (22 miles) north of Copenhagen, also could spark conflict with left-wing groups planning a counter-demonstration there. Muslims in the Middle East and Southeast Asia have burned Danish flags and effigies of the prime minister in recent days amid anger over the publication by a Danish newspaper of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Many Muslims in Denmark said they were deeply offended but mass demonstrations have not broken out here. But police fear tensions are rising, and that right-wingers could provoke the country’s Muslims.
In Copenhagen, about 150 young Muslims gathered outside the city hall at midday Saturday shouting “Allahu akbar,” or “God is great.”
This week, Denmark’s Security Intelligence Service warned that “the right extremist forces in Denmark are trying to … create a conflict situation and contribute to an increased polarization.”
In Copenhagen, moderate Muslims were to meet to form a nationwide network because “the agenda has been set by more radical Muslims in Denmark,” said Fathi Abd, a spokesman for the group.
“We would like to be an alternative because they do not represent all Muslims in Denmark,” he said.
In the past weeks, the Islamic Faith Community group’s, whose leaders toured the Middle East in December and January to publicize complaints about the drawings, have been fingered by moderate Muslims.
The Copenhagen community, which has spearheaded the criticism with several other Islamic groups, represent some 15,000 Muslims, according to Danish media. Some 200,000 Muslims live in Denmark.
An opinion poll released Saturday by Danish public radio found opinion equally split on publication of the drawings, with 47 percent saying the newspaper should not have printed the caricatures and 46 percent backing the move.
The telephone poll of 509 people was conducted Friday. No margin of error was stated.