Most Danes understand Muslim cartoon anger: poll

Copenhagen, Denmark - An opinion poll in a Danish Sunday newspaper showed that more than half the Danes questioned said they understood why Muslims around the world were outraged by cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad first published in Denmark.

But fewer than half those asked thought it was wrong of the daily Jyllands-Posten to publish the 12 cartoons, whose reprinting by other European newspapers triggered a storm of protest from Muslims around the world.

The usually peaceful Danes have found themselves at the eye of the storm of protest, with Danish diplomatic missions set on fire and Danish goods boycotted in several Muslim countries.

The Malaysian newspaper Star reported that the Danish foreign minister had asked his Malaysian counterpart to help calm Muslim anger over the cartoons.

The report appeared shortly after Denmark's foreign ministry urged its citizens to leave Indonesia because of a "clear and present danger" from Muslim extremists and followed the withdrawal of Danish diplomats from Indonesia, Iran and Syria.

Many Muslims consider all portrayals of the Prophet as blasphemous.

The Gallup survey in Denmark's Berlingske Tidende showed that 56 percent of the 1,003 Danes questioned last week understood that Muslims were offended by the cartoons, while 41 percent said they did not understand by Muslims were so angry.

Asked if it was wrong of Jyllands-Posten to publish the cartoons, 49 percent of respondents agreed, but 43 percent said the paper was right to print them.

Protests against the cartoons appeared to be dwindling. In Tehran, about 60 people staged a protest outside the French embassy, setting fire to a French flag and chanting "Death to America" and "Fascist France is a servant of Zionism."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference diplomatic missions should be respected "to stop the enemies from taking advantage of the situation to justify the disgusting move that happened in some European countries."

In Afghanistan, where protests last week led to 10 deaths when police fired on angry crowds, there have been only small, isolated protests in recent days, though a leading rebel, a former government minister, condemned the cartoons on Sunday.

"The publication of blasphemous cartoons of our Great Prophet in European newspapers proves that crusading nations have not forgotten their old enmity to Muslims," Gulbuddin Hekmatyar said in a statement.

In Copenhagen, the foreign ministry urged all Danes on Saturday to leave Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, as soon as possible.

"Concrete information indicates that an extremist group wishes to actively seek out Danes in protest for the publication of the Prophet Mohammad cartoons," it said. The threat is greatest in eastern Java but "it is feared that it can spread to the rest of the country, including Bali," it added.

Denmark has withdrawn its diplomatic staff from Indonesia and Iran because of threats to their security, and from Syria, citing inadequate security provision by the Syrian authorities.

Malaysia's Star quoted Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar as saying he had received a call from his Danish counterpart Per Stig Moeller asking Malaysia to help calm Muslim anger.

"He told me they respect Islam and it was never their intention to hurt the feelings of Muslims," the newspaper quoted Syed Hamid as saying. "He hopes Malaysia can help in explaining and containing the situation from getting out of control and causing a divide between Muslims and non-Muslims."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottak had also contacted him, asking for an emergency meeting of OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) foreign ministers to discuss the issue, he said.

Malaysia chairs the OIC, the largest grouping of Muslim nations, and Syed Hamid said he backed the idea of a meeting.

In Lebanon, a militant Muslim group loyal to al Qaeda said the torching of Danish missions in Lebanon and Syria in protest at the cartoons should spark a holy war against the West.

"The fire you set is but a signal to start jihad from the Palestinian refugee camps ... against the crusaders who still insult (the Prophet), Usbat al-Ansar said in a statement. The group is based in a Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon.

In Yemen, the authorities detained three journalists and closed their newspaper for reprinting cartoons of the Prophet, officials said.

The Yemeni journalists' association called for the journalists to be freed and their papers reopened because they had been "informing the public about the offence to the Prophet."