Vatican, Azhar condemn cartoon reprint

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CAIRO: Officials from the Vatican and Al-Azhar on Wednesday condemned the reprinting of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed considered offensive to Muslims, in a sign of rapprochement between the two bodies.

Sheikh Abdel Fattah Alaam, chairman of Al-Azhar (Sunni Islam s main seat of learning) Dialogue Committee and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, wrapped up a two-day meeting in Cairo on dialogue between the monotheistic religions.

In a joint statement, they strongly condemned the republication of offensive cartoons and the rising number of attacks against Islam and its Prophet.

They stressed that freedom of expression [should] not be taken as a pretext for offending religions, convictions, religious symbols and everything that is considered sacred.

Last year, Mohamed Sayed Tantawi the grand imam of Al-Azhar cancelled a trip to the Vatican after a speech by Pope Benedict XVI linking Islam and violence.

At least 17 Danish dailies last week reprinted a drawing featuring the Prophet Mohamed s head with a turban that looked like a bomb with a lit fuse.

The caricature was one of several drawings that sparked violent protests that culminated in early 2006 with the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut, and the deaths of dozens of people in Nigeria.

The Danish papers re-published the caricature a day after police in Denmark foiled an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist, describing the move as a gesture of solidarity with him and a blow in defense of freedom of expression.

Islam forbids any physical representation of the Prophet Mohamed. -AFP

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