- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

TEHRAN — The Iranian government yesterday rejected an accusation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that it has fanned violent protests over caricatures of the prophet Muhammad and demanded an apology, saying that could reduce growing tension.

Miss Rice, meanwhile, said Iran and Syria should be urging their citizens to remain calm — not encouraging violence like last week’s attacks on Western diplomatic missions in Tehran; Damascus, Syria; and Beirut. Nearly a dozen people also were killed in protests in Afghanistan.

“If people continue to incite it, it could spin out of control,” she said yesterday on ABC’s “This Week” amid a continuing furor over the cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper four months ago.

The images offended many Muslims, as Islam widely holds that representations of the prophet are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.

But some suggest the genuine anger displayed by crowds across the Muslim world has been exploited or intensified by some Muslim countries.

Miss Rice said Wednesday that “Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said the protests were “a natural reaction” to the drawings and that “Rice and Danish officials should apologize.”

“Such comments could worsen the situation, and an apology could alleviate the tension,” he said.

One of Iran’s largest newspapers, meanwhile, was to open a contest today seeking caricatures of the Holocaust. Hamshahri newspaper said it wanted to test whether the West extends its principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide as it did to the cartoons of Islam’s prophet.

When asked by ABC to give evidence that Iran and Syria had incited the demonstrations, Miss Rice noted that little happens in the two countries without government permission.

“I can say that the Syrians tightly control their society, and the Iranians even more tightly. It is well-known that Iran and Syria bring protesters into the streets when they wish to make a point,” she said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan condemned the drawings as “insensitive and rather offensive,” but he called for dialogue.

“Right now, there’s megaphone diplomacy,” Mr. Annan told Denmark’s national broadcaster DR. “And I think we should turn off the megaphones and begin to talk quietly to each other.”

Protests continued yesterday. Ultranationalist Turks pelted the French Consulate in Istanbul with eggs as about 2,500 demonstrators shouted “Down with America, Israel and Denmark.” At least 30,000 protesters denounced publication of the drawings at a peaceful rally in southeast Turkey.

Graffiti insulting the prophet Muhammad — including offensive slogans equating him with a pig — also were found scrawled on a West Bank mosque.

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