PARIS - French and German newspapers republished caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad yesterday in what they called a defense of freedom of expression, sparking fresh anger from Muslims.
The drawings have divided opinion within Europe and the Middle East since a Danish newspaper first printed them in September. Islamic tradition bars any depiction of the prophet to prevent idolatry.
The cartoons include an image of Muhammad wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse and another portraying him holding a sword, his eyes covered by a black rectangle.
The front page of the daily France Soir yesterday carried the headline "Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God" along with a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian gods floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper reran the Danish drawings.
Germany's Die Welt printed one of the drawings on its front page, arguing that a "right to blasphemy" was anchored in democratic freedoms. The Berliner Zeitung printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy.
Italy's La Stampa printed a small version of the offending caricature, on page 13. Two Spanish papers, Barcelona's El Periodico and Madrid's El Mundo, also carried the photos.
The decision by French Soir drew a stern but measured reaction from the government.
"Press liberties which French authorities defend everywhere in the world cannot be questioned. However, this has to be done within the spirit of tolerance and the respect of faiths and religions," France's Foreign Minister FM, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said during a visit to Ankara, Turkey.
It is unusual for the Foreign Ministry to comment on the contents of French publications, but the issue is sensitive at home. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim community with an estimated 5 million people.
France Soir, which is owned by an Egyptian magnate and has struggled to attract readers, justified its decision.
"The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden. But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures," the paper said.
The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten originally published the cartoons after asking artists to depict Islam's prophet to challenge what it perceived was self-censorship among artists dealing with Islamic issues. A Norwegian newspaper reprinted the images earlier this month.
Angered by the drawings, masked Palestinian Arab gunmen briefly took over a European Union office in Gaza on Monday. Syria called for the offenders to be punished. Danish goods were swept from shelves in many countries, and Saudi Arabia and Libya recalled their ambassadors to Denmark.
The Jyllands-Posten - which received a bomb threat over the drawings - has apologized for hurting Muslims' feelings but not for publishing the cartoons. Its editor said yesterday that he would not have printed the drawings had he foreseen the consequences.
Carsten Juste also said the international furor amounted to a victory for opponents of free expression.
"Those who have won are dictatorships in the Middle East, in Saudi Arabia, where they cut criminals' hands and give women no rights," Mr. Juste told the Associated Press. "The dark dictatorships have won."
Demonstrations and condemnations across the Muslim world continued.
Syria yesterday recalled its ambassador to Denmark for consultations over the drawings, Syria's official SANA news agency said, and the Supreme Council of Moroccan religious leaders, led by Morocco's King Mohammed VI, denounced the drawings.