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Danes boost West Asia PR campaign after cartoon row

Written by: Staff

COPENHAGEN, Apr 3 (Reuters) Denmark will boost its spending on West Asian relations by up to 20 per cent this year to try to repair damage caused by the row over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, a Foreign Ministry source said today.

A Danish newspaper first published the cartoons last year, outraging Muslims who consider drawings of the Prophet to be blasphemous. Protesters in Islamic countries have since attacked Danish embassies and boycotted products from the country.

''The budget (for Denmark's main West Asian relations programme) is currently around 100 million Danish crowns (.2 million) a year and this will increase by 15 to 20 per cent,'' the ministry source told Reuters.

''It's currently on the minister's desk awaiting approval.'' Set up in 2003, the programme aims to create a dialogue between Danes and people in West Asia and to promote democracy. It runs conferences and twinning schemes and provides funds for non-governmental organisations, among other activities.

Tensions in the region have cooled since the start of February when demonstrators burnt the Danish flag and torched its embassies, and Denmark's ambassadors to Syria, Lebanon and Indonesia have now returned. Only in Pakistan is it considered too unsafe for the ambassador to return to work.

But Denmark -- which has soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan -- has a long way to go to repair its once favourable image in the Islamic world, analysts say.

''They (the cartoons) have had a huge impact in the short term, but the big question is what is the long-term impact?'' Helle Malmvig, senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, said.

Denmark's government has refused to apologise for the cartoons, saying it cannot say sorry on behalf of a free and independent media and that freedom of speech is sacred.

Today its foreign minister Per Stig Moeller met his Spanish counterpart in Copenhagen to discuss the cartoon row.

''We have been very grateful of the support from Spain and the European Union but we also feel we have to do our homework ourselves and not only trust our friends but also trust ourselves,'' Moeller told reporters afterwards.

Some Danish companies have taken out advertisements in the Arab press distancing themselves from the row.

Dairy company Arla says its products are now only stocked in 400 supermarkets across the region, compared to 50,000 normally, and that the boycott will cost the company 400 million Danish crowns this year.

It called the cartoons' publication irresponsible and unfortunate in newspaper adverts across West Asia.

The same series of advertisements has been attacked at home for being disloyal, however, and one Danish women's rights group accused Arla of supporting regimes which oppressed women.

Reuters TM VP0005

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