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Sweden denies apologizing over cartoon row

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15:36 CEST+02:00
Sweden has denied reports that a diplomat apologized to Muslim leaders for the publication in Sweden of a cartoon depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad as a dog.

The Swedish ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Jan Thesleff, met Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, head of the Organization for the Islamic Conference (OIC), on Tuesday in Jeddah and offered his "deepest apologies for the controversy created by the publishing of the hurtful depiction," the 57-nation bloc said in a statement.

But the Swedish Foreign Ministry immediately denied that the ambassador had made any apology, saying he had only expressed regret.

"The ambassador repeated his regret at the controversy created by the publication, but not for the publication itself," foreign ministry spokeswoman Anna Björkander told The Local.

She described the OIC's interpretation of the meeting as a "misunderstanding."

Björkander said Thesleff was dissatisfied that the OIC had said he had apologized, but did not plan to demand that the organization change its statement.

"He said he is not satisfied with the use of the word 'apologize'," Björkander said.

Reinfeldt met with ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries last Friday to discuss the issue. There he stressed that Sweden does not have "elected representatives making editorial decisions", adding that "the best way to deal with this issue is through dialogue."

The publication of the sketch in the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda on August 18 – featuring the Muhammad's head on a dog's body – sparked a fiery debate in the Swedish media on freedom of expression and prompted Muslims in Örebro, where the newspaper is based, to hold two protests.

Egypt, Iran and Pakistan have lodged formal protests with the Swedish government and religious leaders in Afghanistan and Jordan have condemned the cartoon.

A strict interpretation of Islam forbids the depiction of Muhammad in any form.

Ihsanoglu conveyed to Thesleff his "concerns that this kind of irresponsible and provocative incitement in the name of defending freedom of expression ... was leading the international community towards more confrontation and division," the OIC said.

A series of 12 cartoons of Muhammad published in Denmark biggest daily more than a year ago led to deadly riots in several Muslim countries.

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