Merkel defends Danish cartoonist, condemns US pastor

As a cartoonist, he has the freedom to draw such cartoons, Merkel said in her key-note address at the awarding of this year's Media Prize of the association of journalists "M100" in Potsdam to Westergaard. However, she condemned the plans of a radical Christian community in the US to burn copies the Quran on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.

"That is totally disrespectful, abhorrent and wrong," she said. The chancellor said drawing such cartoons is possible in Europe "regardless of whether we find them in good taste or whether we find them necessary and helpful or not".

"The secret of freedom is the courage," she said in remarks criticised by Muslim organisations and the opposition Green party. The controversial cartoon had appeared in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten on September 30, 2005.

It unleashed violent protest demonstrations across the Muslim world in which a number of people were killed. There have been several death threats against Westergaard and the editors who published it.

Denmark was forced to close several embassies around the world as a result of the protests. "The consequences for the cartoonist should be a warning for us," chancellor Merkel said.

She pointed out that the people of Germany mark this month the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the communist dictatorship in the former East Germany and the reunification of the divided nation.

"We know very well what subjugation means and therefore we will never forget how precious freedom is," she said. "Press freedom is one of the basic characteristics of a free democracy".

A spokesman for the Central Council of Muslims in Germany said in a television interview that it will send a "wrong signal" to Muslims in this country. Merkel's remarks "would only pour oil into the fire," another Muslim leader said.

Leader of the Green Party Renate Kuenast said she would not have done that. Even though freedom of expression exists also in cartoons, when a German chancellor makes a speech on that, "it aggravates the tone," she said.

The Media Prize is awarded to personalities who engage themselves for democracy, freedom of expression and press freedom.

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