With Muslim anger boiling over across much of the world due to the drawings, first published in a Danish newspaper, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had strong words for the West as he hosted an international meeting on Islam.

"They think Usama bin Laden speaks for the religion and its followers. Islam and Muslims are linked to all that is negative and backward," said Abdullah, whose country heads the 57-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

"The demonisation of Islam and the vilification of Muslims, there is no denying, is widespread within mainstream Western society," he said on Friday, speaking at the two-day International Conference on "Who Speaks for Islam? Who Speaks for the West?"

Abdullah said Western nations wanted to control the world's oil and gas, and blamed that desire along with colonialism and "the imposition of Israel upon the Arab world" for a rift with the Muslim faith.

The premier also said Muslims saw the "hegemony" of Western powers "manifested directly in the attack upon Afghanistan and in the occupation of Iraq".

These "have all contributed in one way or another to the huge chasm that has emerged between the West and Islam," he told the gathering of religious leaders and scholars in Kuala Lumpur.

Free speech limits

The publication of 12 caricatures of Muhammad by a Danish newspaper in September, and since reprinted in other nations as well as on the internet, has stirred up Muslim anger and raised questions about the limits of free speech.

Muslims regard any portrayal of the prophet as blasphemy.

One of the cartoons features prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

Scores of Muslims rallied outside
the Danish embassy in Malaysia 

At least 13 people have been killed in demonstrations against the cartoons in mainly Muslim countries, and thousands rallied after Friday prayers outside the Danish embassy in the Malaysian capital.

Chanting Allahu Akbar, meaning God is great, and holding banners saying Down with Denmark!, the crowd marched on the embassy.

A group of mainly young Muslim men, led by opposition Pan-Malaysia Islamic party (PAS) president Hadi Awang, handed over a petition to the embassy.

"The Danish government are playing with fire," Hatta Ramli, a PAS central committee member, yelled as he punched his fist in the air.

"There is definitely something rotten in the state of Denmark. You can insult anybody but not our beloved Prophet. If you insult our Prophet, we are ready to die," Hatta said.

The protest later broke up peacefully, after PAS members handed out pamphlets calling for a boycott of exports from Denmark.

Police said some 2000 protestors took part while organisers put the number above 3000.

Newspaper shut

Former Iranian leader Mohammad
Khatami is at the conference

It was the first mass rally in Malaysia against the cartoons, and came a day after Abdullah ordered the closure of a local newspaper, the Sarawak Tribune, which reprinted the caricatures - the only paper in mainly-Muslim Malaysia to do so.

It was believed to be the first newspaper anywhere in the world to be closed down for publishing the drawings.

"Sarawak Tribune's publication permit (was) suspended indefinitely with immediate effect," state news agency Bernama quoted him saying Thursday night.

Malaysia has also slapped a blanket ban on circulating or even possessing cartoons of the prophet.

A total of 60 religious leaders, government officials, academics and scholars have gathered in the capital to ponder the challenges facing the Muslim world.

Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami is among the participants at the conference which host Malaysia hopes will be an annual event.

The conference will address ways to dispel mutual misperceptions through the media and how policymakers can develop policies to ensure that globalisation benefits Muslims and diffuse Muslim grievances towards the West.