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Europe

Solana Mediates in Cartoon Dispute

The EU's foreign policy chief has begun a tour of the Middle East to defuse the row over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed. Meanwhile, new cartoons in a German paper have sparked anger from Iran.

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A peaceful protest by Muslims in front of the Danish embassy in Berlin

The European Union's chief diplomat has said Europe and the Muslim world must maintain strong relations despite the clash over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak on Tuesday discussed mechanisms to protect religious symbols and beliefs. On the second leg of his Middle East tour, Solana said he had a "profound desire to recuperate relations between the EU and the Muslim world."

On Monday, Solana met with Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), in Jeddah. The OIC is a pan-Islamic body representing 57 nations. In a joint press conference, Solana said continued dialogue was crucial.

Javier Solana

Solana hopes to defuse tensions during his Middle East tour

"We must not allow the latest events to erode the solid relationship we have built up over so many years," Solana said after meeting with Ihsanoglu. "We need each other, we have to work together, and we have to respect each other."

Solana said he and Ihsanoglu also agreed on "the importance of mutual tolerance and the inadmissibility of violence."

"Offence cannot be countered with violence," Solana said. "This is unacceptable."

EU averse to new blasphemy laws

Ihsanoglu said he also wanted the EU to pass blasphemy laws. "I have proposed many ideas, legislative measures to be taken by the European Union," he said.


Solana, who later met King Abdullah in Riyadh, made no
comment on the idea of EU measures. But a European official close to the talks told Reuters that the EU was careful to avoid promises on legislative prohibitions against offending Muslims.

"We deviated from the word 'laws' and moved to concentrate
on conventions, resolutions and such things. We have to be
careful of Western public opinion," the official said.

Though Muslims consider any portrayal of Mohammed blasphemous, many in Europe have supported the freedom of thepress to publish the cartoons.


Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said the delegation
now felt the tide was turning in the cartoon furor. "They want
mechanisms to guarantee this is not repeated and we should be able to find it in UN conventions on human rights," she said.

In addition to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Solana will also visit Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel during his regional tour.

German cartoons anger Iran

Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in Berlin has protested to a German newspaper for publishing a "disgusting and abhorrent" cartoon portraying Iranian soccer players as suicide bombers.

The cartoon published in the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel last Thursday showed four Iranian soccer players with bombs strapped around their stomachs alongside four German soldiers under the headline: "Why the German army absolutely must be deployed for the World Cup."

In a letter to the newspaper, the embassy said the cartoon "had provoked disgust and abhorrence among sportsmen, the Iranian people, sports fans in the entire world, as well as Iranians living in Germany."

Iran is among the qualifiers for the World Cup, which kicks off in Germany on June 9.

Soccer cartoon not intended to offend

The cartoonist, Klaus Stuttmann, said he had received three e-mailed death threats over the drawing. But he insisted he had not intended to offend Iran. Rather, he was trying to make an ironic point.

Fußball, WM Qualifikation 2006, Iran gegen Saudi Arabien

Many Iranians see the latest cartoons as an insult to their national soccer team

"I am against soldiers being deployed for the World Cup and tried to make my point of view clear that I find the suggestion absurd," Stuttmann said in an interview published in Der Tagesspiegel on Tuesday.

"We regret the Iranian reactions and can only explain it with a lack of familiarity with the domestic debate," Der Tagesspiegel said in a statement, referring to the ongoing discussion in Germany about whether the army should be deployed during the World Cup to reinforce the police.

"I do not see the Iranians as suicide bombers, and they are not," Stuttmann said. "On the contrary, they are sportsmen like other sportsmen. So that is why we do not need the army."

Demonstrators pelt German embassy in Tehran


Also on Tuesday, a group of Islamists hurled firecrackers and stones at the German embassy in Iran on Tuesday over the publication of cartoons.

"Death to Germany," the crowd of about 50 protestors shouted as they set fire to the Israeli and American flags to the refrain of "Down with Israel, Down with America."

A force of about 15 police prevented the crowd from getting too close to the embassy.

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