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Geert Wilders cancels Mohammad cartoon contest over safety concerns

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By Claire Heffron  with Reuters
Geert Wilders cancels Mohammad cartoon contest over safety concerns
Copyright  Reuters   -  

Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders said on Thursday he was cancelling plans to hold a contest for cartoons caricaturing the Prophet Mohammad, saying the danger of violence against innocent people was too great.

In a published statement he said he would never personally stop his campaign against Islam but the risk to innocents, and of attacks on the Netherlands, stemming from the proposed contest was too great.

"My point about the intolerant nature of Islam has been proved again by this," he said.

Earlier this week, Dutch police arrested a 26-year-old man suspected of threatening to attack Wilders over his plan.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, thousands of people demonstrated against the contest, in a march organized by Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik, which also called on Pakistan and other Islamist countries to sever all ties with the Netherlands.

Images of Prophet Mohammad are traditionally forbidden in Islam as idolatrous. Caricatures are regarded by most Muslims as highly offensive.

In 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Mohammad that sparked a wave of protest across the Muslim world and several attempts to kill either its editor or cartoonist Kurt Westergaard.

Ten years later, a pair of Islamists stormed the offices of magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, known for publishing satirical cartoons of the Prophet, and killed 12 people.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte last week defended Wilders' right to stage the contest, saying it fell within the boundaries of freedom of speech, but also stressed the plan was not a government initiative.

Wilders' anti-Islam Freedom Party became the second largest in the Netherlands at last year's general elections but is not part of the government. Wilders had planned to hold the contest in his party's offices in the parliament building.