Since Jyllands-Posten, a right-wing Danish newspaper, printed the caricatures in September, three embassy buildings have been set alight, five diplomatic missions closed, Danish products boycotted and a price put on the heads of Danish nationals in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

Danish aid organisations and non-governmental groups have been expelled, while the government's pro-democracy Arab Initiative has come unstuck.

 

Denmark's friends, especially in Europe, have been sucked into the controversy, especially those in which newspapers have reproduced the caricatures, seen as offensive by Muslims.

 

Diplomatic fallout

 

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, is leaving on Monday for the Middle East to try to limit the diplomatic fallout from the affair.

 

The United States, initially slow to give Denmark its backing, is also reaping the consequences from the row at a delicate time, while the Iranian nuclear crisis and Middle East peace initiative dangle.

 

Toeger Seidenfaden, editor in chief of Politiken, the Danish paper with the second largest circulation after Jyllands-Posten, told AFP: "We are not yet out of the woods.

 

"Maybe we are getting a little beyond the dimension of reaction in the Muslim world dominated by violence.

 

"It seems that more and more political and religious leaders are imposing a pattern of peaceful protests, and that is encouraging."

 

Peaceful outrage

 

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said the protests could spin out of control if governments refused to act responsibly.

 

A Danish editor was encouraged
by peaceful protests

Rice, speaking from Washington on ABC television's This Week, said Iran and Syria should urge their citizens to remain calm - not encouraging protests against Western embassies.

 

"If people continue to incite it, it could spin out of control," she said of the protests.

 

"Everybody understands that there's a sense of outrage, that these cartoons were inappropriate in the Muslim world. But you don't express your outrage by going out and burning down embassies... You express your outrage peacefully."

 

Iran on Sunday rejected earlier US and Danish accusations that the government had encouraged the protests.

 

Blame

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, was criticised for his handling of the affair.

Abdullah Gul, the Turkish foreign minister, said the affair would have been handled better if Rasmussen had said there is freedom of the press but that he condemned the publication.

 

In Denmark, Rasmussen's stance on freedom of expression enjoys public support.

 

The latest opinion polls show a majority of Danes blame local imams, suspected of spreading false stories in the Muslim world.

 

The beneficiary of the crisis is the extreme-right Danish People's party (PDD), which backs the Rasmussen government. It has seen support leap to 18% from the 13.3% it scored in a general election a year ago.