Anders Fogh Rasmussen defends handling of prophet cartoon crisis

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday said Danish authorities have taken "all the necessary steps" to protect the cartoonists behind the Prophet Muhammad drawings and defended his government's response to the crisis.

Fogh Rasmussen said he regrets that Muslims worldwide have been offended by the 12 drawings published in Danish paper Jyllands-Posten in September, but insisted his government cannot be held responsible for the actions of independent media.

"In Denmark , the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press is not up for negotiation," the prime minister said during his weekly media briefing. "In Denmark , it is the courts who decide this kind of thing and not the government."

Fogh Rasmussen, who leads Denmark 's center-right coalition government, stood by his decision not to meet with 11 ambassadors from Muslim countries who wanted to discuss the dispute in October. He said he told them in writing he had no power over the Scandinavian country's free press.

Critics have said a meeting with the ambassadors could have prevented the crisis from escalating into a firestorm of bloody protests that have left dozens killed in Muslim countries.

Fogh Rasmussen said authorities are protecting the cartoonists who have gone underground after receiving death threats. A Pakistani cleric last week offered a US$1 million bounty on one of them.

"The Danish authorities have taken all the necessary steps to ensure security for the cartoonists and other individuals," the premier said.

The government's contacts with religious and diplomatic leaders in Muslim countries were yielding results, he said, but warned the crisis would take a long time to blow over.

"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."

Later Tuesday, the Foreign Ministry announced Denmark 's ambassador to Indonesia had returned to Jakarta where he would reopen the country's diplomatic mission. Embassy staff were temporarily brought home 10 days ago after receiving threats.

Denmark has also withdrawn diplomats from Lebanon , Syria , Iran , and Pakistan after violent protests and attacks on Danish embassies.

Fogh Rasmussen also said the government had received "positive signals" from Saudi Arabia , which had stressed "the need for dialogue and respect between cultures."

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 Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, have been republished recently by media worldwide, including in several European newspapers, reports the AP.


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