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Monday, January 30, 2006

Gaza gunmen warn Denmark, Norway on Islam cartoons

GAZA, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Palestinian gunmen said on Monday Danes and Norwegians visiting Gaza could be attacked unless their governments apologise after newspapers printed cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Danish paper Jyllands-Posten's satirical images of Islam's founder sparked outrage across the Muslim world and prompted several Arab countries to close their embassies in Copenhagen. A Norwegian paper has run them too.

Ten Palestinians armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers rallied outside the European Union headquarters in Gaza City and fired in the air, demanding an apology and warning Danes and Norwegians they would be at risk in Gaza.

"We warn the citizens of the above-mentioned governments against not taking this warning seriously because our groups are ready to implement it across the Gaza Strip," one of the gunmen said, reading from a prepared statement.

Islam considers images of prophets disrespectful and caricatures of them blasphemous.

The Danish government has repeatedly defended the cartoons, saying they were protected by the right of free speech and that Jyllands-Posten is an independent newspaper.

Israel quit Gaza last year after 38 years of occupation, prompting a power struggle between rival Palestinian factions. Several foreigners, including aid workers and tourists, have been briefly kidnapped in bids by gunmen to press their demands.

Instability has risen since the Islamic group Hamas wrested victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections last week.
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