KHARTOUM, Sudan – Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir said Wednesday he would bar Danes from Sudan and told tens of thousands of people at a government-backed rally that the Muslim world should boycott Denmark because of a reprinted cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.
"We urge all Muslims around the world to boycott Danish commodities, goods, companies, institutions, organizations and personalities," al-Bashir told the crowd outside the Republic Palace in downtown Khartoum.
"Down, down, Denmark!" shouted the protesters. Al-Bashir vowed that "not a single Danish foot will from now on desecrate the land of Sudan."
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It was not clear whether al-Bashir would carry out his rhetoric and expel over two dozen Danes who work in Sudan, mostly in aid organizations and as peacekeepers in southern Sudan and Darfur. Danish diplomats in Khartoum said they were not told of a new trade boycott and that Sudanese authorities had not notified them about expelling the Danes. In Copenhagen, Foreign Ministry officials declined to comment.
Seventeen Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban this month in a gesture of solidarity after police in the Scandinavian country said they uncovered a plot to kill the cartoon's artist.
Sudan was one of the nations where large protests were held against Denmark in 2006 when the cartoon and 11 others depicting Muhammad and Islam were first published. In riots that followed around the Muslim world, dozens of people were killed and several Danish embassies were attacked, while Danish goods were boycotted.
But unlike the 2006 violence, Khartoum's rally Wednesday passed peacefully. The rally failed to reach the 1 million participants called for by the organizers, the Popular Front for the Defense of Faith and Religion which backs al-Bashir's ruling National Congress party.
Protests against this month's reprinting of the cartoon elsewhere have also been low-key, mostly restricted to diplomatic condemnations. But in Pakistan, hundreds set fire to Danish flags and demanded the Danish ambassador's expulsion. Palestinians protested in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the militant Islamic Hamas, calling the reprint a heresy.
In Denmark, youth set hundreds of small fires for nearly two weeks in immigrant neighborhoods. The cause for the unrest was unclear but some said it was a protest against police harassment. Other observers say that the reprinting of the cartoon may have aggravated the situation.
The Khartoum protest came a day after Sudan enforced a ban called by al-Bashir on imports of Danish goods. The central square was closed for traffic since early morning as hundreds of buses and trucks brought in protesters, who included women and students, from far-flung areas around the capital to downtown Khartoum. Nearby roads were also blocked and traffic slowed elsewhere in the city.
The protesters carried banners reading: "We love you our dear Prophet," "Shame on the enemy of Islam," and "Boycott Danish commodities."
"There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his messenger," they shouted. "We will protect our Prophet, we will not be intimidated by America!"
Al-Bashir also spoke in support of Palestinians and called for jihad, or holy war, to "liberate" Jerusalem.
Danish exports to Sudan are minimal, consisting mainly of dairy products. In 2006, they amounted to US$23 million, a drop of 26 percent over the previous year.
But Sudan is one of the largest recipients of Danish aid and Danish aid groups that operate there include the Danish Refugee Council and the Danish Red Cross, which runs large projects to alleviate suffering in the western Darfur region.
Danish exports, mainly dairy products, to Sudan are minimal, unlike to other Muslim markets such as Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. In 2006, they amounted to 116 million kroner (euro15.5 million; US$23 million), a drop of 26 percent compared to the previous year.
The African country received 130.2 million kroner (euro17.5 million; US$26 million) in Danish aid in 2006 and a 500 million kroner (euro67 million; US$100 million) humanitarian and reconstruction package is planned through 2009.
Al-Bashir came to power in an Islamist and military coup in 1989 and has since imposed Muslim Sharia law on the country's predominantly Arab north.
Khartoum governor, Abdul Halim al-Mutaafi, told the local Al Riyadiah radio station from the rally that Danes were no longer wanted. "We don't want them to come to our land nor will we like to go to their land."
Germany's interior minister expressed respect for the Danish newspapers' decision to reprint the cartoon and argued that all European newspapers should follow suit, according to comments released Wednesday.
"I have respect for the fact that Danish newspapers have now all printed the Muhammad caricatures, on the basis (that) we will not let ourselves be divided," Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble was quoted as saying by the weekly Die Zeit.
"Actually, all European newspapers should now print these caricatures, with the explanation: 'We also find them lousy, but the exercise of press freedom is no reason to practice violence,"' Schaeuble added, according to the report.