CAIRO - Seated beside the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar in the heart of Islamic Cairo Wednesday, Danish Foreign Minister Lene Espersen apologised for the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohamed by some Danish newspapers, which offended a billion Muslims across the world.
Espersen balked out at any repeat of such bids to cause rifts among people of the world, declaring her country's respect for the Muslim world and hailing ties with the Muslim countries as very significant.
"Denmark is keen to have good ties with all Muslim countries in general and Egypt in particular," Espersen told a in joint press conference with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the world seat of Sunni Islam.
She had added that she discussed with el-Tayyeb means of achieving peaceful co-existence between followers of different religions.
Espersen denied that her visit to Al-Azhar came after threats to the Danish illustrator, whose cartoons provoked large protests throughout the Muslim world.
"My country believes in freedom of expression but it also respects all religions and highlights the significance of co-existence," the official said.
The drawings first appeared in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Sheikh el-Tayyeb, meanwhile, pointed out that the Danish official was keen to announce her country's apology to Muslims from Al-Azhar.
"The minister renewed her country's apology for the publication of these cartoons and pointed out Denmark’s efforts to issue a law criminalising contempt of religions," el-Tayyeb said.
El-Tayyeb added that he could not apologise for any reactions by Muslims following the publication of the offensive cartoons.
Denmark has remained a target of extremists ever since. Police say they have thwarted a series of terrorist plots against the newspaper and the creator of the most controversial cartoon, which showed the Prophet Mohamed wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.
Denmark's government distanced itself from the cartoons but doggedly resisted calls to apologise to Muslims, citing freedom of speech and saying the government could not be held responsible for the actions of Denmark's free press.