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Sudan urges Muslims to act against Denmark; thousands protest cartoon of Muhammad
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    KHARTOUM, Sudan — President Omar al-Bashir vowed on Wednesday to ban Danes from Sudan and called for a Muslim boycott of Denmark before a crowd of tens of thousands denouncing the country at a government-backed protest against a cartoon satirizing the Prophet Muhammad.
    The rally outside al-Bashir’s palace in Khartoum was the biggest protest in the Muslim world since Danish papers reprinted the cartoon, seen by many Muslims as insulting to their religion’s most revered figure. The demonstration raised fears that renewed protests over the cartoon — so far small and scattered — could grow.
    ‘‘We urge all Muslims around the world to boycott Danish commodities, goods, companies, institutions, organizations and personalities,’’ al-Bashir told the crowd.
    ‘‘Down, down, Denmark!’’ shouted the protesters. Al-Bashir vowed that ‘‘not a single Danish foot will from now on desecrate the land of Sudan.’’
    It was not clear whether al-Bashir would expel the two dozen Danes who work in Sudan, mostly in aid organizations and as peacekeepers in southern Sudan and Darfur. The Danish Charge d’Affaires in Khartoum, Karin Soerensen, said her mission had not been notified of any order for Danes to leave and would not comment whether there were any plans to evacuate them.
    Al-Bashir’s Islamist government has frequently used perceived insults to Muhammad to rally support for the regime and opposition to international pressure to accept U.N. peacekeepers in Sudan. He has barred peacekeepers from Sweden and Norway from a U.N.-African force in the Darfur region because papers in those countries ran similar cartoons in the past.
    Khartoum began enforcing a ban on Danish products Tuesday.
    If Sudan moves to try to expel Danes from the peacekeeping force in the south or from the Darfur force known as UNAMID it would further strain ties with the U.N., where some officials have complained that Khartoum has been trying to hamper UNAMID.
    Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for UNAMID, which includes a few Danes, said the U.N. had not ‘‘at this stage received any official notification’’ about an expulsion of Danish subjects from Sudan.
    The Danish government did not respond to al-Bashir’s statements Wednesday.
    But Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller suggested Tuesday that the Sudanese actions were politically motivated. He pointed out that Sudan had used anger at Norway and Sweden as a means to bar those countries from sending peacekeepers to Darfur. He also said al-Bashir’s stance was ‘‘the prolongation’’ of Sudan’s threat to lash a British teacher last November because she let a teddy bear be named Muhammad as part of a class project. The threat was widely seen at the time as a means to fire up anti-Western feelings among Sudanese.
    ‘‘That is the line they (the Sudanese government) have opted for,’’ Stig Moeller said.
    He said a boycott could affect Sudan’s hopes of joining the World Trade Organization.
    Speaking to Danish public television, Moeller warned that protests around the region ‘‘can become worse.’’
    Earlier this month, 17 Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban — 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.
    Khartoum’s protest was peaceful Wednesday, ending after several hours. The rally failed to muster the 1 million participants sought by the organizers, the Popular Front for the Defense of Faith and Religion, which backs al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress party.
    The protesters carried banners reading: ‘‘We love you our dear prophet,’’ and shouted, ‘‘We will protect our prophet, we will not be intimidated by America!’’
    Some media and Islamic clerics in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Egypt have called for new boycotts of Danish goods. Yemen’s parliament on Wednesday called for a boycott and ordered the halt of activities of the Yemeni-Danish Friendship Society, a small, recently formed non-governmental organization.
    Danish exports to Sudan are minimal, consisting mainly of dairy products. In 2006, they amounted to $23 million. But Sudan is one of the largest recipients of Danish aid — $26 million in 2006 and a $100 million humanitarian and reconstruction package is planned through 2009.
    Associated Press Writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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