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Tension Rises Over Cartoons of Muhammad

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The issue received little attention in Europe, however, until this week, when the Danish company Arla Foods -- the second-largest dairy producer in Europe -- announced that its Middle Eastern sales had completely dried up as the controversy continued. On Thursday, the company said it was laying off about 125 workers because of those losses.

Mahmoud Hashem, 51, who owns a company based in the seaside Saudi city of Jiddah, said he had sent e-mails to more than 500 people urging them to stop buying Danish products.

"I think that all Muslims should unite and do something about this," said Hashem, reached on his cell phone as he was leaving prayers at a Jiddah mosque Thursday afternoon. "Anybody who wants to get some press uses Muslims as a punching bag."

At Sawari Superstores, one of the largest supermarket chains in Jiddah, signs were posted in the dairy section saying, "We do not sell any Danish products."

"I am not willing to buy any product from a country that has insulted my prophet, my religion and my dignity as a Muslim," said Leila Faleh, 42, a hospital administrator shopping at the store. "I would rather go back to drinking milk from a cow and eating dates."

Yuri Thamrin, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, called the cartoons' publication an act of insensitivity that has stoked anger across the Muslim world. "We as a democratic country value freedom of expression, but believe freedom of expression has to be conducted wisely and not as a cover to denigrate or insult religious symbols," Thamrin said.

"It is nothing new," lamented Mohammed Hussein Mudhaffer, a 33-year-old mechanical engineer in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. "The publishing of such cartoons showing the prophet Muhammad is part of the savage campaign waged by the West against Islam and Muslims."

Special correspondent Ambah reported from Jiddah. Correspondents Alan Sipress in Jakarta, Indonesia, Karl Vick in Istanbul, Scott Wilson in Jerusalem, Griff Witte in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Mary Jordan in London and special correspondents Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Marie Valla in Paris contributed to this report.


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