Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist leaders in talks with EU officials

Senior EU officials were holding talks Tuesday with Christian, Islamic and Jewish leaders as well as Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to discuss how to strike a balance between freedom of speech and religious sensitivities. Attention has been focused on the issue since newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad triggered protests by Muslims worldwide.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel were co-chairing the talks that aim to ease tensions between religions around the world, Barroso's office said. Barroso told reporters going into the talks that the meeting was "a brainstorming with no pre-hatched conclusions," hoping to build on respect for diversity.

"It really is an opportunity to discuss freely amongst ourselves," Barroso said. The EU leaders and their 16 religious counterparts were to debate ways on how the religious leaders can better handle tensions like the ones that spread amid the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, which sparked a series of violent protests across the Islamic world.

Many Muslims joined by other faiths denounced the drawings as offensive. But media outlets from a number of countries have carried the Danish cartoons asserting their right to free expression. Schuessel said regular meetings with religious leaders should be set up. "We have so many problems to overcome, we need really all forces, all moderate and constructive forces, to help to create a better world," Schuessel said, reports the AP.


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