Solana tries to calm cartoon row in Saudi Arabia

 

The European Union and a major grouping of Islamic countries would back United Nations action to stop "defamation of religion" after cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad provoked violent protests worldwide.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) is lobbying for the United Nations to include language against blasphemy in the tenets of a new human rights body and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he supported the idea.

"We agreed to take different measures including at the level of the United Nations to guarantee these acts will not be repeated," OIC Ekmelettin Ihsanoglu Secretary General said in Jeddah.

The head of the 57-nation body was speaking at a press conference with Solana, who arrived overnight in the birthplace of Islam at the start of a Middle East tour to try and calm the furore over caricatures.

"We have been talking today on how we can send a message to the people in both communities, the Islamic and European, that we need this not to happen again ... We strongly hope that people will be now sensible to understand that," Mr Solana said.

"Be sure we are going to do our utmost for this not to happen again, because we need each other... I don't think honestly it will happen again," he added.

Mr Ihsanoglu said he also wanted the EU to pass blasphemy laws. "I have proposed many ideas, legislative measures to be taken by the European Union," he said.

But Mr Solana made no comment on the idea of EU measures. Mr Solana has said he hopes to turn the tide in the cartoon furore during his Middle East visit. He was due to meet King Abdullah in the capital Riyadh later today, before heading to Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Israel.

Angry protesters have attacked the Danish and Norwegian missions in Damascus, Beirut and Tehran over the cartoons which first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September. They have been republished in many papers around the world.

Muslims consider any portrayal of the Prophet blasphemous, but many in Europe have supported the freedom of the press to publish the cartoons.

Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Denmark last month after pressure from clerics and a popular campaign against Danish products in the kingdom, site of Islam's holiest shrines.