- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

BEIRUT — Protests over Danish caricatures of the prophet Muhammad escalated yesterday as gunmen seized an EU office in Gaza and Muslims appealed for a trade boycott of Danish products. Denmark called for its citizens in the Middle East to exercise vigilance.

Denmark-based Arla Foods, which has been the target of a widespread boycott in the Middle East, reported that two of its employees in Saudi Arabia were beaten by angry customers. Aid groups, meanwhile, pulled workers out of Gaza, citing the threat of hostilities.

The 12 drawings, published in a Danish paper in September and in a Norwegian paper this month, included an image of the prophet wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet.

Danish government officials have expressed regret over the furor but have refused to get involved, citing freedom of expression. The Jyllands-Posten newspaper has refused to apologize for publishing the drawings and has said it did not mean to insult Islam.

Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen briefed colleagues in the European Union about the matter yesterday. He has rejected calls to intervene.

Arla Foods’ executive director urged the Danish government to take action.

“Freedom of expression is an internal Danish issue, but this has a totally different dimension,” Peder Tuborgh said. “This is about Denmark having offended millions of Muslims.”

In Gaza, masked gunmen briefly took over an office used by the European Union, demanding an apology from Denmark and Norway. The gunmen said citizens of the two countries would be prevented from entering the Gaza Strip.

The Danish Red Cross said it was evacuating two employees from Gaza and one from Yemen. The Norwegian People’s Aid group also said it was withdrawing its two Norwegian representatives in Gaza.

In Iraq, a roadside bomb targeted a joint Danish-Iraqi patrol near the southern city of Basra yesterday, wounding one Iraqi policeman, military officials said. The attack was the first involving Danish troops since the protests flared.

An Iraqi militant group, Mujahedeen Army, called for attacks against Danish and Norwegian targets, saying a boycott of goods was not enough, Reuters news agency reported.

In Najaf, Iraq’s highest Shi’ite religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, urged Denmark to take “measures to discourage” those who offend the prophet, Agence France-Presse reported.

Arabs and Muslims also are calling for a boycott of Danish foods, including popular cream cheese, butter and cookie brands. Arla said the boycott of its products in the Middle East was almost total.

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