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Muslim ambassadors 'made no demands'
Photo:Ulrika Vendelbo (Library photo)

Muslim ambassadors 'made no demands'

Published: 07 Sep 2007 12:52 GMT+02:00
Updated: 07 Sep 2007 12:52 GMT+02:00

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt met on Friday with ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries for talks surrounding the publication in a Swedish newspaper of a caricature of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The envoys are not reported to have called for Sweden to change its laws to protect against the desecration of the Muslim prophet. After a meeting with his Muslim colleagues on Thursday, the Egyptian ambassador had indicated that the group wanted to see "action, not just nice words."

But Reinfeldt said that the ambassadors did not present a list of demands at government offices in Rosenbad.

"There were no demands in that sense. We had a very positive dialogue," said Reinfeldt.

The ambassadors agreed earlier in the week to condemn the publication, which they described as a "humiliating action", and to hand over a letter to the government pointing out the importance of reaching a long-term solution.

"We reject all forms of violence, psychological as well as physical," Iran's ambassador Hassan Ghashghavi told TT after the meeting.

"Diplomacy needs to be employed for issues such as this. It is my view that the Swedish government has handled this situation well. Causing offence does not belong to the concept of freedom of speech," he added.

Reinfeldt said that he had "explained how Swedish society works and that we don't have elected representatives making editorial decisions", adding that "this is an open country, a tolerant country".

The Prime Minister also noted that the ambassadors had thanked him for calling the meeting.

"We agreed that the best way to deal with this issue is through dialogue. We pointed to the importance of the fact that we are using dialogue as a starting point to quell tensions," said Reinfeldt.

Reinfeldt told the ambassadors he wanted to see Sweden's 400,000 Muslims increasingly integrated in Swedish society.

"This policy is good. We should use freedom of speech for integration, not for disintegration or Islamophobia," Hassan Ghashghavi told AFP.

Algerian ambassador Merzak Bedjaoui recalled that Sweden had in recent years welcomed more Iraqis than any other country in Europe.

"I don't think, I can't imagine, that this will grow the way it did a year and a half ago" in Denmark, he said, noting that the Swedish government had handled the matter "totally differently."

Reinfeldt has tried to avert a crisis like the one neighbouring Denmark experienced more than a year ago when a series of 12 cartoons of the Muslim prophet published in Denmark's biggest daily led to deadly riots in several Islamic countries.

Kuwait's ambassador Sami Muhammad Al-Sulaiman also praised Reinfeldt's initiative.

"We think that a constructive and positive dialogue can prevent these kinds of things in the future," he told news agency TT.

Lars Vilks' caricature was published on August 18th in local newspaper Nerikes Allehanda.

Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference have all lodged official protests and demanded punitive action.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is advising Swedish citizens to exercise caution when travelling to the Middle East.

"Swedes are advised to take care and stay up to date with media reports," said spokeswoman Anna Björkander.

TT/The Local/AFP

Paul Rapacioli (paul.rapacioli@thelocal.com)

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