By David Rennie in Brussels Newspapers across Europe yesterday defended what one editor called the “right to blasphemy” by printing Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that have provoked fury in the Arab world. A slow-burning row over the cartoons, originally published in Jyllands-Posten in September, exploded after they were denounced by a senior Saudi Arabian cleric last week. Protests have included street demonstrations, flag burnings, death threats, bomb scares and a crippling consumer boycott of Danish goods by businesses in several Gulf states. That anger spread across Europe after the cartoons were published yesterday in France, Germany, Spain and Italy. Syria became the latest nation to withdraw its ambassador from Copenhagen, after Saudi Arabia and Libya. In France the front page of the France-Soir tabloid carried the headline “Yes, We Have the Right to Caricature God” and a cartoon of Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim and Christian divinities floating on a cloud. Inside, the paper re-ran the Danish drawings. “The appearance of the 12 drawings in the Danish press provoked emotions in the Muslim world because the representation of Allah and his prophet is forbidden,” it said. “But because no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society, France Soir is publishing the incriminating caricatures.” France has western Europe’s largest Muslim community, with an estimated five million people. Mohammed Bechari, the president of the National Federation of the Muslims of France, said his group would start legal proceedings against France Soir because the pictures were “hurting the feelings of 1.2 billion Muslims”. The drawings were originally commissioned by Jyllands-Posten from Danish artists after an author could not find an illustrator to depict Mohammed in a biography of the Prophet. The Danish cartoonists submitted a range of images, all banned by Islam, which strictly forbids depictions of the Prophet to avoid encouraging idolatry. One depicts a grinning, knife-wielding Mohammed flanked by two veiled women. Another, which appeared on the front page of Die Welt in Germany, and in La Stampa in Italy, shows the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban, topped by a hissing fuse. The Spanish newspaper ABC used a photograph of the original Danish newspaper, with its 12 cartoons. Die Welt also ran an editorial regretting a decision by the Danish newspaper to apologise for the upset caused. The Jyllands Posten has not apologised but its editor, Carsten Juste, said he would not have printed them “had we known that it would lead to boycotts and Danish lives being endangered”. Die Welt described the “right to blasphemy” as a key freedom of an open society. Roger K_ppel, the editor of Die Welt, said his main motive for running the cartoon had been the “news value of the story”. But he stood by the decision. “In our culture, we have a tradition that even our most holy things can be subjected to satire or criticism. Muslims have to understand that in our culture, the representation of a holy man has another meaning.” The Left-wing Berliner Zeitung daily printed two of the caricatures as part of its coverage of the controversy, but said Denmark should accept the boycott of its goods as the price to pay for freedoms of speech. “If we really want to protect our values, then we should respect this call for boycott and just accept the sacrifices they will incur.” Armed militants in the Palestinian territories this week warned Danish, Norwegian and Swedish citizens to leave the Gaza Strip and West Bank or risk being killed.