B'desh editors ask forgiveness on magazine cartoon

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DHAKA, Sep 20 (Reuters) Editors of eight leading Bangladesh newspapers in a joint statement today urged people to forgive a cartoon published in a magazine this week.

The statement was issued after Islamists and Imams of different mosques called for a street protest against the cartoon, which some said hurt the sentiment of most devout Muslims.

A hardline Muslim group, Hizbut Tahrir, urged Muslims to gather outside Dhaka's Baitul Mokarram mosque after tomorrow's noon prayers and march towards the office of the daily Prothom Alo.

Its weekly magazine Alpin published the cartoon on Monday, triggering immediate protests, and led to the arrest of the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, on the grounds he had deliberately insulted Islam and tried to disrupt peace in the country.

The cartoon showed a small boy calling his cat ''Mohammad Biral (cat)''.

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

Angry Muslims said the cartoonist deliberately printed it to hurt their feelings, while a government adviser, Mainul Husein, said it was part of a design to provoke violence in the country.

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

Bangladesh bans all protests under a state of emergency the army-backed interim government imposed in January, following months of political violence.

Police said they would strictly enforce the ban if further protests were attempted over the cartoon.

In the joint statement, the eight editors said: ''We hope all quarters (including) the devout Muslims and Alems (imams) will forgive the incident as the editor of the respective newspaper apologised repeatedly.'' The statement was handed over to Mainul Husein, law and information adviser to the interim government.

The government has pledged to punish the offenders, but urged the people to remain calm and show patience.


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