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Harper expresses regret over cartoon publication 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 5:50 p.m. February 14, 2006]

OTTAWA  —  Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Tuesday he regrets a decision by the Western Standard to reprint some of the controversial cartoon depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. 

"I regret the publication of this material in several media outlets," Harper said in a statement released late Tuesday afternoon. "While we understand this issue is divisive, our government wishes that people be respectful of the beliefs of others. 

"I commend the Canadian Muslim community for voicing its opinion peacefully, respectfully and democratically.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Riad Saloojee, of the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, held a press conference with reporters in Ottawa to outline a public awareness and outreach program his group is coordinating in reaction to the international furor. 

During that appearance he was asked whether he felt the cartoons put Canadian troops in Afghanistan at risk. 

"I think the fact that people choose to reprint the cartoons, could put our troops in danger."

"There is always a risk that the there could be violence against our troops," he said. "There's no about that. And that's precisely the reason why we shouldn't move forward and reprint these cartoons."

Saloojee was asked this after comments made earlier by Canada's new defence minister. 

Gordon O'Connor told CanWest News that the decision by the Calgary-based publication did not help the situation for Canada's troops. 

"Radicals in Syria and Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq, they get people roused up because their religion's being offended," O'Connor said. "We don't need any more risk in the area than we have."

With a national circulation of about 40,000, the Western Standard is the largest Canadian publication to go ahead and reprint some of the cartoons. The cartoons have created international outrage, violence and protests because of their depictions of Mohammed, including one cartoon depicting a lit bomb in his turban. 

In his weekly column for the Sun newspaper chain, Western Standard publisher Ezra Levant explained his decision to publish. 

"In our magazine's news judgment, you can't properly report that story without showing the cartoons."

"The Western Standard has no explaining to do. We're a news magazine, and these cartoons are news. The publishers, editors and TV producers who are behaving as if they live under sharia law, not the Charter of Rights, have explaining to do -- to their readers and viewers."

But Saloojee called the magazine's decision a deliberate provocation. 

"The cartoons are widely accessible over the Internet," he said.

"There's no need for a publication to go ahead and print all of them except, we think, to be unduly provocative and to serve selfish interests or perhaps the bottom line of the pocketbook." 

He called the cartoons "hate inciting," arguing they go "beyond merely offensive speech."

Saloojee, however, said he does not expect Canadian Muslims to react in the same way others have in other parts of the world. 

"I think we should also note that much of (the violence) has been centrered around a part of the world that has a lot of unresolved political issues," he said. "I think in many cases the cartoons were the fuse that lit the proverbial political powder keg in the Middle East."

He also condemned the violence, saying it was "tragic irony" that followers of Mohammed would use means he would deplore. 

In a statement last week, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay condemned the violence resulting from the cartoons, but said the whole affair "highlights the need for a better understanding of Islam and of Muslim communities."

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