Belarusian newspaper publishes Prophet Muhammad cartoons

A small independent newspaper in Belarus has published cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, an editor said Wednesday, sparking an angry response from the authorities. The weekly Zgoda on Saturday printed drawings of Muhammad that have sparked protests in much of the Muslim world since their publication in Denmark and several other countries, said Alexander Sdvizhkov, the paper's deputy chief editor.

"We did the right thing by speaking out against Islamic hysteria," Sdvizhkov told The Associated Press. In a statement published on its Web site, the Foreign Ministry said the "publication is of a clearly provocative character ... and completely contradicts the policy of Belarusian officials."

"The Foreign Ministry decisively condemns any intentional actions which can result in the inciting of religious hatred, and the spread of hostility and mistrust between ethnic and religious communities living in Belarus ," the statement said.

Zgoda, one of the few remaining independent newspapers under the authoritarian Belarusian regime, has been banned from the state-run distribution network and is mailing copies directly to subscribers. Zdvizhkov dismissed the government response to the cartoons as "inappropriate." About 80 percent of Belarusians consider themselves Orthodox Christians; the rest are Catholics, Jews, and Muslims. Alexander Kalinov, a government official on nationalities, said Muslims make up about 0.02 percent of this ex-Soviet republic's population of 10 million.

In neighboring Russia , a regional newspaper that ran the cartoons was closed down by its owner, who said he did not want to cause religious strife. Another publication there that also published a drawing depicting Muhammad has been ordered to close, reports the AP.


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