50,000 expected at cartoon protest rally

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 February, 2006, 12:00am

Muslim leaders pledge rally in Victoria Park will be calm

Organisers hope up to 50,000 Muslims will attend a second protest against the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed planned for Victoria Park next Sunday.

But they will first need to seek police permission, the Kowloon Mosque's chief imam, Muhammed Arshad, said yesterday.

News of a second planned protest came as the Sunday Morning Post learned that security at the building housing the city's Danish consulate had been stepped up last week after the torching of Denmark's embassies in Syria and Lebanon last weekend.

Muslim leaders yesterday decided against applying to hold a protest march along Nathan Road in favour of a rally outside the Kowloon Mosque, near Tsim Sha Tsui MTR, after lunchtime prayers on Friday.

Saleem Ahmed, a member of the Incorporated Trustees of the Islamic Community Fund of Hong Kong, said the decision was made to avoid traffic chaos and inconvenience to pedestrians. About 4,000 Muslims are expected to gather at the mosque on Friday.

'We want to make [our views] known to as many local people as possible, so we decided to hold a protest in Hong Kong and another one in Kowloon,' he said.

'We want people to know that Muslims are a peace-loving people. But we also want to tell them that our Prophet [Mohammed] was insulted, and we want to tell people what this means to us so they will understand why we are making an issue out of it.'

Mr Ahmed, who is also the president of the Pakistan Association of Hong Kong, said he expected up to 50,000 Muslims to gather on Sunday. He reiterated guarantees that the events would not turn violent, as have protests around the world.

The Muslims gathered in Victoria Park are to hold prayers and distribute pamphlets in English and Chinese to passers-by.

Meanwhile, Muslims polled by the Post after lunchtime prayers on Friday said they were upset at the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed, including one depicting him wearing a bomb in his turban. Most said they were likely to join in the protest and nearly all hoped it would not turn violent.

Ayaz Mohammed, 33, said: 'All Muslims, even the children, are upset about [the cartoons].'

The management office at the Great Eagle Centre in Wan Chai - where the Royal Danish Consulate General is located - on Wednesday said it had beefed up security.

Security guards used mirrors to check under vehicles for suspect devices as they entered the centre's basement car park. A supervisor at the building's management office, who declined to give his name, said the consulate had not requested the increased security checks.

'They are being made in light of the recent incidents in the Middle East involving Muslims and the inappropriate actions they took against consulates overseas. After liaising with the police, we decided to go ahead with security checks to protect our tenants,' he said.

Denmark has been at the focus of the furore after its Jyllands-Posten daily published the cartoons portraying the Prophet as a terrorist, which sparked violent protests in Muslim countries.