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Anger grows over Muhammad cartoon

Protests have spread across the Muslim world over the publication in Europe of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

The drawings, first printed in Denmark, sparked a fresh row when they were re-run in several newspapers, leading to the sacking of a French editor.

The man named to replace the France Soir editor has now resigned.

There have been anti-French and Danish protests in Pakistan over the cartoons but one Jordanian paper reprinted them urging Muslims to "be reasonable".

Palestinian gunmen briefly surrounded EU offices in Gaza to demand an apology over the cartoons.

Norway has closed its mission in the West Bank to the public in response to threats from two militant groups against Norwegians, Danes and French people.

Foreign ministry spokesman Rune Bjaastad told the BBC News website that the office would remain closed until further notice, but no decision had yet been made on withdrawing staff.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned that the decision by some European papers to publish the cartoons could encourage terrorists.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai also strongly condemned their publication, saying it was "an affront... for hundreds of millions of people".

Hundreds of students demonstrated in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Multan, burning flags and effigies of the Danish prime minister.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson also criticised the European papers which re-ran the cartoons, saying they were "throwing petrol onto the flames of the original issue and the original offence that was taken".

The row intensified on Wednesday when France Soir, alongside the 12 original cartoons, printed a new drawing on its front page showing Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy figures sitting on a cloud, with the caption "Don't worry Muhammad, we've all been caricatured here."

Publications in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain also re-ran the Danish cartoons to show support for free speech.

Islamic tradition bans depictions of the Prophet or Allah.

France Soir's editor, Jacques Lefranc, was dismissed by the paper's French-Egyptian owner in response to criticism from Muslim groups.

But journalists at France Soir stood by their editor's decision on Thursday, printing a front page picture and editorial in which they strongly defended the right to free speech.

Jordanian independent tabloid al-Shihan reprinted three of the cartoons on Thursday, saying people should know what they were protesting about, AFP news agency reports.

"Muslims of the world be reasonable," wrote editor Jihad Momani.

"What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"

The article in al-Shihan also included a list of Danish products.

Some Muslim countries are already boycotting Danish products after a paper there first printed the cartoons last September.

Danish-Swedish dairy giant Arla Foods says its sales in the Middle East have plummeted to zero as a result.

In diplomatic protests, Syria and Saudi Arabia have recalled their ambassadors to Denmark, and Libya has closed its embassy in Copenhagen.

The caricatures from Denmark's Jyllands-Posten paper included drawings of Muhammad wearing a headdress shaped like a bomb, while another shows him saying that paradise is running short of virgins for suicide bombers.

The offices of Jyllands-Posten had to be evacuated on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

The paper had apologised a day earlier for causing offence to Muslims, although it maintained it was legal under Danish law to print the cartoons.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the paper's apology, but has rejected calls to punish the paper, saying the government cannot censor the press.
Posted 02 Feb 2006

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