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EU: European Governments Can't Apologize For Acts By Free Press

Young Danes hold a banner saying 'sorry' to Muslims earlier this month. European citizens can apologize, but European governments cannot, according to Jose Manuel Barroso (epa) Protests and fatalities continue in the Muslim world over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. But as demonstrators call on EU governments to apologize, those governments are saying the world must realize that they do not and will not control the media in their countries.

PRAGUE, 15 February 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Pakistan suffered a third straight day of violence today, as rioters burned down movie theaters and businesses in the cities of Peshawar and Lahore.

Police said the protest in Peshawar was the largest to date, drawing an estimated 70,000 people.

Some of the demonstrators went on a rampage, ransacking the regional headquarters of Norwegian mobile phone company Telenor as well as the offices of Mobilink, the main Pakistani operator. Mobs also torched a bus terminal operated by the South Korean company, Daewoo. Police responded with tear gas and batons.

Three people, including an 8-year-old boy, were reported killed in the melee.

Barroso: Governments Can’t Apologize

In Manila, capital of the Philippines, hundreds of demonstrators burned Danish flags outside the Danish Embassy. Legislator Mujib Hataman, leader of the Muslim community in the southern region of Mindanao, said the protesters were waiting for a formal apology from the Danish government for insulting the Prophet.

"We want them to condemn the action of 'Jyllands Posten.' We want them to ask for an apology on behalf of their people. And of course, to 'Jyllands Posten' for the caricature that they've done."

Angry protests have rocked the Philippines (epa)

But that is precisely what Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, says European governments will not and cannot do.

In his clearest statement on the issue to date, Barroso told the European Parliament in Strasbourg that EU governments do not speak for private individuals or independent media in their countries.

Barroso said it was time for people in the Muslim world to understand this fundamental principle.

"Governments or other public authorities do not prescribe or authorize the opinions expressed by individuals. Conversely, the opinions expressed by individuals engage these individuals and only them. They do not engage a country, a people, a religion. And we should not allow others to pretend that they do."

Denmark Is Europe

The EU chief said he had the deepest personal respect for Islam and its contribution to European history and culture. But he defended freedom of speech, calling it "non-negotiable."

"A boycott of Danish goods is, by definition, a boycott of European goods."

Barroso also condemned the trade boycotts of Danish goods being advocated in several Muslim countries. As he did repeatedly during his speech, he invoked European solidarity regarding Denmark.

"Nor is a trade boycott an appropriate way of addressing the issue. It will hurt the economic interests of all parties and could damage the growing trading links between the European Union and the countries concerned. Trade, and the greater interconnections it brings, is a means to promote mutual understanding. And let us be clear. A boycott of Danish goods is, by definition, a boycott of European goods."

He did not outline any potential countermeasures.

But Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda is one politician who has suggested that the EU should offer financial compensation to Danish companies affected by the boycotts.

Iran Defends Holocaust Cartoon Contest

Barroso today condemned the ongoing violent protests that have damaged EU offices and Danish embassies in some Muslim countries.

"The Commission condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the violence perpetrated against our office in Gaza and against the missions of the member states, in particular those of Denmark. It is ironic that the aims of these missions is to bring real benefits to the lives of the people of their host countries."

Protesters burn the Israeli flag in front of the German Embassy in Tehran on 14 February (epa)

He said the Danish government and nation enjoyed and deserved the support of the European Union.

"I have spoken with the prime minister of Denmark and expressed the solidarity of the Commission. I want here today to send my solidarity to the people of Denmark as well -- a people who rightly enjoy the reputation of being among the most open and tolerant, not just in Europe but in the world."

Iran appears determined to test that tolerance. Speaking at a news conference in Tehran, the editor in chief of the mass circulation "Hamshahri" newspaper, which is run by the Tehran municipality, defended the paper's contest for cartoons about the Holocaust.

Mohammad Reza Zaeri said on 14 February that the West's much-vaunted free speech policies should be tested. He challenged the world to take a strong position against what he called the "killing and oppression of millions of people by the United States and Israel."

The newspaper's cartoon contest has been widely condemned by Jewish groups both inside and outside Iran as well as by many governments. "Hamshahri," unlike its Danish counterpart, is not considered independent of the authorities, as it is run by the Tehran municipality.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly questioned the existence of the Holocaust.

The Cartoon Controversy

The Cartoon Controversy

Islamabad residents protesting against the Prophet Muhammad cartoons on February 15 (epa)

An Unfolding Conflict

19 February 2006: A full-page apology by "Jyllands-Posten," dated 5 February, appears in papers in Saudi Arabia. Churches in Libya, Nigeria, and Pakistan are attacked, as too is the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia.

18 February: Forty-five die in Nigeria as churches, hotels, and shops are torched in a predominantly Muslim northern state. Roberto Calderoli resigns from the Italian cabinet after being blamed for riots in Libya that ended with the destruction of the Italian Embassy and the loss of 10 lives. The Libyan interior minister and local police chiefs are sacked for using disproportionate force to quell the riots.

17 February: Ten Libyan protestors are killed during a demonstration that culminates with the burning of the Italian Embassy in Tripoli. Protestors link the demonstrations to the decision of an Italian minister to wear T-shirts showing the cartoons.

16 February: The Russian media watchdog pledges to take a tough line against any organization accused of "insulting religious feelings."

15 February: The Danish government says the Iraqi government wants Danish troops to remain. A far-right Italian minister, Roberto Calderoli, says he plans to wear T-shirts emblazoned with some of the "Jyllands-Posten" cartoons. In Pakistan, three more protestors are killed, one in Lahore and two in Peshawar, as tens of thousands demonstrate.

14 February: Pakistani police shoot dead two protesters in Lahore. In Iran, crowds attack the British and German embassies. Political leaders in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah call for Danish troops to leave the country. In Israel, a cartoonist launches a competition for the best anti-Semitic cartoons by Jews themselves. In Europe, the Portugese president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, promises support for Denmark and the democratic system in a dispute that reminds him of his country's dictatorial past.

13 February: A leading Iranian newspaper, "Hamshahri," invites cartoons about the Holocaust in a competition aimed at testing the limits of free speech in the West.

12 February: Intelligence reports suggest Danes in Indonesia are under threat. Denmark urges its nationals to leave the country. It had previously made similar appeals to Danes in many Muslim countries.

10 February: Thousands of Malayans protest, as Western and Muslim political, cultural, and religious leaders gather to discuss differences between the Western and Muslim worlds.

9 February: The Swedish government forces offline a website that asked readers to submit their own cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

8 February: Security forces open fire on protestors in the Afghan city of Qalat, killing four, on a day of angry and sometimes violent scenes around the world. Washington accuses the Syrian and Iranian governments of inciting violence.

7 February: Iran's largest newspaper invites cartoons of the Holocaust, saying it wants to test the limits of Western freedom of expression.

6 February: Widespread unrest over the cartoons reported in Afghanistan. One person was reported killed and four wounded in Laghman Province.

6 February: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan expresses "distress" over the publication of the cartoons, but condemns the violent reactions in the Muslim world.

5 February: The Danish Consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, is torched.

4 February: Mobs burn the Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Chilean embassies in Syria. Protests in Denmark turn violent.

1 February: Papers in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain run reprints of the cartoons in a show of solidarity.

30 January: The EU says it will take World Trade Organization (WTO) action if the boycott persists. Several Islamic groups, including Hamas and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, call for a worldwide boycott of Danish products. Masked gunmen in storm EU office in Gaza. The Danish paper apologizes.

29 January: "Jyllands-Posten" prints a statement in Arabic saying the drawings were published in line with freedom of expression and not a campaign against Islam. Palestinians burn Danish flags and Libya announces it will close its embassy in Denmark.

28 January: The Danish company Arla places advertisements in Middle Eastern newspapers to try to stop boycott of its products.

27 January: Thousands denounce the cartoons during Friday prayers in Iraq.

26 January: Saudi Arabia recalls its ambassador to Denmark and initiates a boycott of Danish goods.

10 January 2006: The cartoons are reprinted by the Norwegian newspaper "Magazinet."

14 November: Jamaat-e-Islami, a Pakistan-based group, protests in Islamabad.

20 October: Ambassadors of 10 Muslim countries complain to Danish Prime Minister. "Jyllands-Posten" reports that illustrators have received death threats.

30 September 2005: The Danish newspaper "Jyllands-Posten" publishes 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

(compiled by RFE/RL)

See also:

Calming The Storm

Former Jailed Iranian Cartoonist Discusses Muhammad Caricatures

Western, Eastern Media View Cartoon Crisis As Test Of Values