EU officials, religious leaders call for mutual respect of beliefs, democratic freedoms

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country holds the EU presidency said the talks with 16 leaders from the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths, and with Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama encouraged the EU to do more to promote respect for diversity across the 25-nation bloc.

Schuessel, who co-chaired the talks with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Islamic leaders had their counterparts' support in appealing for their beliefs to be respected amid the cartoon controversy, which launched a widespread debate over how to balance freedom of speech and religious sensitivities.

Barroso said all participants agreed the problem over the drawings was "not about Islam," but rather finding a balance between freedoms and respect for other points of view, the AP reports.

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.

Separately the Brussels-based Rabbinical Center of Europe complained they were unfairly excluded from the EU meeting Tuesday, arguing the two Jewish representatives at the talks did not fully represent the Jewish faith in Europe, the AP reports.

The group said the two other Rabbis at the meeting represented mostly the Ashkenazi community and not the Sephardic community.

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