Islamic grouping denounces calls to kill cartoonists

Islamabad, Pakistan - The secretary-general of the world's largest Muslim grouping on Tuesday denounced calls to kill European cartoonists who lampooned the Prophet Mohammad, saying violence would not help the Muslims' cause.

A Pakistani Muslim cleric and his followers offered rewards amounting to over $1 million last week for anyone who killed the Danish cartoonists whose drawings enraged Muslims worldwide.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), condemned the caricatures as "blasphemous, ugly and uncivilised" but said any call to kill the cartoonists was against the teachings of Islam.

"You have no authority to kill anybody," he told a news conference after talks with Pakistani leaders.

"This is not a joke to go and say kill this and that. This is a very serious matter and nobody has authority to issue a ruling to kill people," he said.

"Nobody is entitled to do this in the name of Islam and who does it in the name of Islam is harming Islam."

The cartoons, originally published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten last year, sparked violent protests across the Muslim world this month after many European newspapers reprinted them. One caricature showed the Prophet wearing a turban with a bomb fixed in it.

At least 50 people have been killed and at least 280 injured in violent protests in Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan since the controversy flared up.

On Monday hundreds of Afghan students shouted support for Osama bin Laden and threatened to join al Qaeda during a protest in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Ihsanoglu urged Muslims to shun violence in their protests.

"Violence weakens us. Violence works against us. Anything except violence is helpful," he added.

Ihsanoglu said his organisation and several Muslim countries were negotiating with the United Nations and the European Union on their proposal to include language on religious defamation in a U.N. General Assembly resolution creating a new human rights council.

"We are expressing the expectations of the Muslim Ummah (world) with an objective that our values and particularly our Prophet be protected and never be insulted as such once again."

He said there was a misconception in the West that Muslims were encroaching upon their freedom of expression by proposing such legislation.

"We are not interested in challenging their freedom of speech but we say the freedom of speech and freedom of expression does not mean insulting others."

He said European press laws already put certain restrictions regarding national symbols, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

"What we are looking for is that you take our sensitivities in your definition (of freedom of expression). If you fail to do that ... it will be a problem of credibility and a problem of universality of European values which they say are universal values."