Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary-general of Organisation of the Islamic Conference, said in Cairo on Sunday that the international body would "ask the UN general assembly to pass a resolution banning attacks on religious beliefs".

The deputy secretary-general of the Arab League, Ahmed Ben Helli, confirmed that contacts were under way for such a proposal to be made to the UN.

"Consultations are currently taking place at the highest level between Arab countries and the OIC to ask the UN to adopt a binding resolution banning contempt of religious beliefs and providing for sanctions to be imposed on contravening countries or institutions," he said.

Twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad, published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten daily last September and reprinted in a Norwegian magazine earlier this month, sparked uproar in the Muslim world where images of the prophet are considered blasphemous.

Publishers adamant

The cartoons include portrayal of the prophet wearing a
time-bomb-shaped turban and show him as a wild-eyed, knife-wielding bedouin flanked by two women shrouded in black.

Officials in Muslim countries and various religious bodies have expressed anger at the cartoons, while the editors of the newspapers have defended their publication on the grounds of freedom of expression.

The offensive cartoons depicted
Prophet Muhammad

Muslim wrath has spread rapidly in the Middle East, with Gulf retailers pulling Danish products off their shelves and protesters gathering outside Danish embassies.

A poll published on Saturday showed that a majority of Danes felt their government should not apologise over the cartoons.

Meanwhile, a Qatari cooperative society, Al Meera, has decided to boycott Danish and Norwegian products.

The move follows similar action taken by other Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in protest at the cartoons.

Saudi Arabia has denounced the cartoons and has recalled its ambassador from Denmark for consultations.

Company reaction

Danish-based food company Arla said on Friday it would advertise in Saudi newspapers to distance itself from the row after facing a consumer boycott there.

Mette Schouby, a spokeswoman, said: "The advertisements will be published in leading national newspapers."
 
Saudi Arabia accounts for two-thirds of Arla's sales in the Middle East that total $396 million.

On Saturday, Kuwait's state-supported supermarkets announced a boycott of Danish products, and the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry called in a regional Danish ambassador to protest against the caricatures while hundreds of Kuwaitis protested outside the Danish consulate.

Products set ablaze

Members of parliament in Bahrain are also calling for a boycott of Danish and Norwegian products.

Danish dairy products were set ablaze on Friday in Bahrain and the anger over the caricatures was also evident in the numerous mobile text messages urging the boycott, according to regional newspapers.

Kuwaitis have protested outside
the Danish embassy

MP Shaikh Mohammed Khalid Mohammed urged people to stop buying Danish and Norwegian products until both countries apologise.

"So what if businesses in Bahrain will be affected, Islam is far more important than anything," he is quoted as saying.

In the emirate of Dubai, a scholar said all Muslim governments should recall their ambassadors from Denmark and boycott its products.

"Those are provocative cartoons that come from sick-minded and irresponsible people,' said the scholar, Ahmad Abd al-Aziz al-Haddad, quoted in the Gulf News.

Danish refusal

Syria on Sunday also joined the chorus of condemnation.

"Syria strongly condemns this insult against the supreme token of the Arab and Islamic nations," the Syrian news agency Sana quoted an unidentified Foreign Ministry official as saying.

The official said the Danish government should punish the offenders.

Jyllands-Posten has refused to apologise for the drawings, citing freedom of speech.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Denmark's prime minister, who has refused to meet ambassadors from Muslim nations over the issue, has said that since freedom of speech is firmly protected in his country, complaints should be handled in court.