“I regret if people have taken offence or feel offended,” Fredrik Reinfeldt said in a statement, after talks with Swedish Muslim organizations over the newspaper cartoon that has caused outrage in many Muslim countries.
“I personally would never intentionally act in a way that could be perceived by other religions as provocative or offensive.”
But Swedish society was based on the belief that “politics should not take it upon itself to judge over freedom of the press and freedom of expression, which is an inalienable part of our country and our democracy,” he said.
The publication of the cartoon in the Nerikes Allehanda local newspaper on August 18th has sparked angry reactions from Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan.
A strict interpretation of Islam forbids the depiction of Muhammad in any form.
Reinfeldt also stressed the “mutual respect and understanding” in Swedish society.
“Sweden is a country where people of different faiths can live together side by side,” he said, adding: “The willingness to provoke should not overtake the willingness for dialogue.”
Tuesday’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour at Stockholm mosque, was called by Reinfeldt, his spokesman Oscar Hållén told AFP.
The details of the meeting were not disclosed but Hållén said the tone was “constructive”. Among those attending the talks were representatives of the umbrella organization Swedish Muslim Council.
The publication of the cartoon comes the year after deadly riots in several countries against 12 cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad published in Denmark’s biggest daily Jyllands-Posten.