Annan decided to seize the opportunity of a long-planned meeting of the UN-sponsored Alliance of Civilizations to publicly address the issues raised by the caricatures and emphasize his opposition to the violent outbursts and the need for tolerance, Stephane Dujarric, the UN spokesman, said on Monday.

 

"He hopes ... to meet with a number of leaders from Europe and from the Islamic world and to discuss with them ways of calming the situation and allowing a constructive dialogue between people of different faiths and traditions based on mutual understanding and respect," Dujarric said.

 

Annan met the ambassadors of half a dozen countries in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) on Monday evening to discuss the meeting on 26-28 December in Qatar's capital, Doha.

 

They also discussed a proposal by the 57-member group of Muslim nations to include language against "the defamation of religions and prophets" in a draft resolution that would create a new Human Rights Council.

 

Alliance of civilisations

 

"He hopes ... to discuss with them ways of calming the situation and allowing a constructive dialogue"

Stephane Dujarric, the UN spokesman

Abd Allah al-Saidi, Yemen's UN ambassador, said afterwards that in Doha Annan planned to meet Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, OIC secretary-general; Amr Moussa, Arab League secretary-general; Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief and the foreign ministers of Turkey, Spain and Austria.

 

"They will issue a statement that I hope will lead to calming the situation," al-Saidi said.

 

Annan launched the Alliance of Civilizations initiative in response to a request from Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister and Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the former Spanish prime minister to mobilize national and international action to overcome prejudice, misperceptions and polarization between cultures and civilizations - especially Islam and the West.

 

The Doha meeting will be the second of 20 religious, political and cultural experts tasked with drawing up a list of concrete proposals for the UN by the end of 2006, on ways to counter extremism and promote respect between civilizations and cultures.

 

Appeal for tolerance

 

The group's first meeting was held
in Spain last November

At the group's first meeting in Spain in late November the experts said that people and nations must rethink urgently how they view and treat each other before it was too late and violence erupted.

 

Dujarric said one issue on the Doha meeting's agenda would be "which population sectors need to be engaged to try to bridge differences and combat extremism particularly in youth and immigrant populations."

 

Annan will address the meeting on 27 February, he said.

 

The former Unesco director Federico Mayor Zaragoza of Spain and the Turkish Minister of State and theology professor Mehmet Aydin will co-chair the group.

 

The members include South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, former Indonesian foreign minister Ali Alatas, and New York rabbi Arthur Schneier - founder of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.