Newspaper apologises for cartoons as troops enforce curfews

Islamabad, Pakistan - Nigeria and Pakistan have deployed troops to prevent a repeat of violent protests over Prophet Mohammed cartoons as the Danish newspaper that first published them apologised again to Muslims.

The Pakistani capital Islamabad was sealed off to thwart a rally by six hardline Islamic parties while Nigerian troops enforced a curfew in two cities after 16 people died and 11 churches were torched in rioting on Saturday.

Almost five months after publishing 12 cartoons of the prophet to highlight what it described as self-censorship, the Jyllands-Posten newspaper printed a full-page apology in a Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Sunday.

It was the strongest expression of regret yet from the newspaper, but stopped short of saying sorry for printing the cartoons, instead apologising for the turmoil they caused.

"These drawings apparently hurt millions of Muslims around the world, so we now offer our apology and deep regret for what happened because it is far from the paper's intention," said the statement in Asharq al-Awasat titled "Apology" in big bold letters.

"We did not set out to offend or insult any religion. We apologise for being misunderstood and reiterate that we did not intend to target anyone ... I hope this clears the misunderstanding and God bless," the statement said.

At least 32 people have been killed and dozens wounded since Tuesday in violent riots over the cartoons that swept through Libya, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Muslim religious and civic leaders across the world have insisted anger will be quelled only with a clear and unequivocal apology from the newspaper and the Danish government for the cartoons considered blasphemous by most of the world's estimated 1.3 billion Muslims.

Others have said it is too late for an apology, calling for legislation in Europe that would outlaw caricaturing or insulting religious symbols.

Following the deaths of five Pakistanis in riots last week, an alliance of six Islamic parties known as Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) vowed to defy the ban despite the lockdown in Islamabad.

City police chief Sikandar Hayat told AFP "every possible step" had been taken to prevent the rally or any attempts to incite violence with 5,000 police and 800 Rangers troops deployed.

"It's a curfew-like situation in the city," MMA spokesman Shahid Shamsi told AFP, insisting the "peaceful" rally would proceed despite the arrests of many of the group's leaders.

Fearing further sectarian violence after the deadly riots a day earlier, Nigeria drafted in police and troop reinforcements to enforce a curfew in two cities in its majority Muslim north.

Fifteen people were killed on Saturday when Muslims protesting against the caricatures in the Borno state capital Maiduguri turned on the Christian minority, burning shops and churches, police spokesman Haz Iwendi said.

A protester was killed and several injured when police in the city of Katsina opened fire on a crowd of stone throwers, he said.

"Police and military personnel are on the streets in joint patrols to ensure that there's no repeat of the unrest," local reporter Abdullahi Bego told AFP by telephone from Maiduguri.

"It's Sunday, and Christians are going to church, and so there is fear that someone might try to foment trouble," he added.

External controversies in the past have triggered conflict between Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, particularly in the north where states since 1999 have attempted to introduce Islamic Sharia law.

News of the September 2001 attack by Al-Qaeda hijackers on New York and Washington rekindled unrest which killed 915 people. The following year 220 were killed in protests against an attempt to stage the Miss World beauty contest in Nigeria.

Eleven Libyan protesters were killed Saturday and and 35 others injured in violent demonstrations that led to the torching of the Italian consulate in Benghazi. The demonstration was in response to Italian Reform Minister Roberto Calderoli donning a T-shirt which reprinted the prophet caricatures.

Calderoli was pressured into resigning by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over the affair, while the Libyan security minister and other officials were sacked for excessive use of force in Benghazi.

A student newspaper at Canada's University of Toronto has become the latest to publish a cartoon of the prophet -- one in which he is depicted hugging Jesus aboard a swan entering a "tunnel of tolerance".

Editor Nick Ragaz in a website statement said the cartoon was intended to provoke debate, dialogue, and thought.

"It cannot, under any circumstances, be understood to promote violence or hate," he said.