About 5,000 children rallied in Pakistan's largest city on Tuesday in the latest protest in the Islamic nation against the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The children, ages 8 to 12, burned a coffin draped in U.S., Israeli and Danish flags at a traffic intersection in the port city of Karachi as police in riot gear looked on.
The rally was organized by Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan's largest Islamic group. The children, some wearing school uniforms and headbands emblazoned with "God is great," were released from schools to take part. Jamaat-e-Islami is part of a coalition of six Islamic parties that has rallied Muslims throughout Pakistan in recent weeks against the cartoons despite bans on protests in some cities.
Opposition lawmaker Liaqat Baluch, deputy secretary-general of the coalition, on Tuesday welcomed the European Union's first statement on the controversy. EU foreign ministers said Monday they regretted the cartoons were "considered offensive" by Muslims around the world after first appearing in a Danish newspaper in September. But Baluch demanded an apology from Denmark, saying it "has not so far acknowledged its mistake."
Baluch also said a "line should be drawn" between freedom of expression — the justification newspapers gave for reproducing the drawings, which Muslims consider blasphemous — and actions that offend cultural sensitivities. "A freedom of expression that destroys world peace is against basic human rights," he said.
The religious coalition has been leading protests against the cartoons, drawing thousands of people to the streets of the conservative Islamic nation. At least five people died in two Pakistani cities when recent protests turned violent. Baluch said the EU must take steps to ensure that another controversy such as the cartoon dispute doesn't occur in the future. "This is a good step forward, but it is incomplete," Baluch said of the EU statement.