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Belarus Paper Reprints Muhammad Cartoons

A small independent newspaper in Belarus has reprinted the cartoons of Prophet Muhammad that set off violent riots across the Muslim world, an editor said Wednesday. The government condemned the publication and said it was not in line with its policy.

The European Union's representative to Sudan said the controversy over the prophet drawings sparked attacks on foreign aid workers in the troubled Darfur region.

Former President Clinton, who is visiting Australia, said the furor over the cartoons has been a squandered opportunity for dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

And Italy's foreign minister said the death toll from prophet drawings protests in Libya last week was 14, three more than previously reported. That would bring to at least 48 the total number of people killed in protests in the Middle East, Asia and Africa over the past month.

The 12 drawings were first published in a Danish newspaper in September and were reprinted earlier this year in some European publications. The papers had asserted it was an issue of freedom of the press. But many Muslims were deeply offended by the cartoons, one of which depicted the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse.

Islam widely holds that representations of Muhammad are banned for fear they could lead to idolatry.

In Belarus, the weekly Zgoda on Saturday reprinted some of the 12 drawings, Alexander Sdvizhkov, the paper's deputy chief editor, said.

"We did the right thing by speaking out against Islamic hysteria," Sdvizhkov told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry said the "publication is of a clearly provocative character ... and completely contradicts the policy of Belarusian officials." The statement was published on its Web site.

"The Foreign Ministry decisively condemns any intentional actions which can result in the inciting of religious hatred, and the spread of hostility and mistrust between ethnic and religious communities living in Belarus," it said.

Zgoda, one of the few remaining independent newspapers under the authoritarian Belarusian regime, has been banned from the state-run distribution network and is mailing copies directly to subscribers. Sdvizhkov dismissed the government response to the cartoons as "inappropriate."

Predominantly Orthodox Christian Belarus has a tiny Muslim minority.

In neighboring Russia, a regional newspaper which ran the cartoons has closed down to avoid controversy. Another publication that also published a drawing depicting Muhammad has been ordered to close.

In other developments, the EU envoy to Sudan Pekka Haavisto said the cartoons were creating tensions with aid workers in the war-ravaged Darfur region.

"The Danish cartoon scandal did not help the situation (in Darfur) at all," Haavisto told reporters in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.

"There were some attacks that were driven by the cartoon scandal against foreign aid organizations," Haavisto added without providing details on who was attacked or how.

In Asia, Malaysian Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin criticized a government-linked English-language newspaper, New Straits Times, for printing one of the cartoons, calling it an unnecessary provocation, the national news agency Bernama reported.

About 200 women in Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, held a peaceful rally to condemn publications of the cartoons.

Chanting slogans against Denmark, the women demanded punishment for the cartoonists and urged the government to sever ties with countries where the drawings were published.

The protest, organized by a coalition of six radical Islamic groups, was part of a series of demonstrations across the country in recent weeks. Some have turned violent, killing at least five people.

Clinton said the issue raised important questions about freedom of speech and religious tolerance.

"I thought we missed a terribly important opportunity when these cartoons were published," Clinton told a business forum in Australia. "If there had not been a violent response to it, then I think there would have been an enormous sympathy generated all across the world and given us an opportunity to learn about one another's religions ... But instead we went right to violence and went out to close the newspaper."

Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said riots on Friday outside the Italian consulate in the Libyan coastal city of Benghazi had killed 14 people instead of 11 as initially reported. The protests were among the most violent since the caricatures were published.

Fini, citing Libyan officials, said foreigners were among the victims.

The demonstrations in Libya, a former Italian colony, were widely seen as a protest against an Italian minister who wore a T-shirt featuring one of the caricatures while appearing on state-run RAI TV. The reforms minister, Roberto Calderoli, has since resigned.

Fini said minister's actions may have provoked the violence but suggested that opposition to Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi might have also played a role in the protests.