B'desh suspends magazine for controversial cartoon

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DHAKA, Sep 21 (Reuters) Bangladesh has suspended publication of a magazine after a cartoon it published this week triggered protests by Muslims who said it was offensive to the devout.

The suspension of publication of the Alpin, the weekly satire magazine of leading Bengali daily Prothom Alo, was ordered as some Muslim groups called for a street protest after Friday noon prayers, and a march towards the Prophom Alo office.

The daily has apologised for the cartoon in which a small boy referred to his cat as ''Mohammad cat''. The protesters said it was a deliberate attempt by the cartoonist to ridicule Islam's Prophet Mohammad.

Prophet Mohammad is highly revered by Muslims, and the protesters objected to use of his name for a cat.

Moulana Obaidul Haque, Khatib (head preacher) of Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram mosque, has urged Muslims to accept the apology and not pursue the issue further.

The cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, has been arrested by police, while the editor of Prothom Alo, along with editors of several other leading dailies, have appealed for forgiveness over it.

Arifur, now in jail, has had no chance to explain to the public what he exactly wanted to say through his cartoon.

It was not clear what charges the police might bring against Arifur but a government official had said the cartoon could be part of a deliberate design to provoke violence and disrupt the peace.

Police said that to avert any violence over the cartoon they would strictly enforce emergency laws banning protests and rallies.

''We shall impose a tight watch around Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram mosque from where the protesters would likely start their march,'' said a police officer.

Police have also deployed outside the daily's office.

Prothom Alo published a third apology on Friday and appealed to all to take the printing of the cartoon as a mistake.

On Wednesday police broke up a street march by hundreds of Islamists in Dhaka, demanding ''death to the Prothom Alo editor'' and ''hang the cartoonist''.

A government statement on Thursday said: ''The magazine in its 431st issue has hurt the sentiment of devoted Muslims'' and risked upsetting law and order.

It asked Prothom Alo publishers to explain in two weeks ''why, in this circumstance, the magazine ... shall not be banned and legal action not be taken against the publishers.'' ''Meanwhile, the Prothom Alo has been asked to suspend the publication of the magazine until the matter is resolved,'' the statement said.

Today the government also confiscated a special issue of another Bengali weekly, Saptahik 2000, for allegedly having contents that might hurt Muslim religious sentiment, the home ministry said today.

It did not specify what had sparked its concerns.

REUTERS ARB AS1447

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