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Hezbollah chief demands apology from Denmark

BEIRUT -- Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims turned a religious ceremony in Lebanon yesterday into a protest against cartoons in the Western media lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.

The European Union, trying to calm Muslim anger around the world over the cartoons, called for a voluntary media code of conduct to avoid further inflaming religious sensibilities, while the United States accused Iran and Syria of deliberately stoking Muslim rage.

The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrilla group pledged no compromise until there was a full apology from Denmark, where the cartoons first appeared, and European countries passed laws prohibiting insults against the Prophet.

''Today, we are defending the dignity of our Prophet with a word, a demonstration, but let George Bush and the arrogant world know that if we have to . . . we will defend our Prophet with our blood, not our voices," Hezbollah guerrilla group leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah told the crowd.

The annual Shi'ite mourning marks the death of the Prophet's grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in Kerbala in Iraq 1,300 years ago. Security sources put the turnout in Beirut at 400,000.

Aid workers from Denmark were told to stay away from the ceremonies for fear of reprisals, said the Danish Red Cross, which has some 40 Danish staff in Muslim countries. Denmark's Foreign Ministry warned Danes to stay away from Lebanon.

Publication of the cartoons, one of which showed the Prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a burning fuse, has incensed Muslims across the world and led to often violent protests in which at least 11 people have been killed.

''We call on Western leaders to apologize and put restrictions on freedom when it involves religion," Khaled Meshaal, political leader of the militant group Hamas, which won last month's Palestinian elections, told reporters in Qatar.

''The ball is in their court. Hamas will work with them to calm the situation . . . We have asked for dialogue, they are the ones who insist on clashing of civilizations."

The vast majority of Muslims consider any portrayal of their prophet to be blasphemous, but the publishers of the cartoon, reprinted across Europe and in other parts of the world, have insisted they were just exercising their right to free speech.

The foreign ministers of EU presidency holder Austria and overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey said there was a lack of dialogue between the Western and Islamic worlds.

''Both ministers stressed that freedom of expression is a fundamental right. At the same time, they agreed that due respect must be accorded to religious beliefs and convictions," they said in a statement.

Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.

RELATED:
 Hezbollah chief demands apology from Denmark (By Nadim Ladki, Reuters, 2/10/06)
 Citing tough judgment call, most US media not using images (By Joseph P. Kahn, Globe Staff, 2/10/06)
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