March 14, 2008 / 12:34 PM / 10 years ago

Dutch warn EU of possible anti-Koran video backlash

<p>Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister of the Netherlands attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos January 26, 2008. Balkenende has warned European leaders of a possible backlash against European interests over a Dutch video which criticizes the Koran, diplomats said on Friday. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse</p>

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said on Friday he had warned European leaders of a possible backlash against European interests over a Dutch video which criticizes the Koran.

Right-wing parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who says the Koran is a “fascist” book that incites violence, plans to show the 15-minute film this month despite appeals from the Dutch government and mounting unrest in the Muslim world.

“Possible consequences of showing the movie ... may not be limited to just the Netherlands but could spread to the international scene,” Balkenende told a news conference after talks at an EU summit late on Thursday, saying he was concerned and wanted to share this with his counterparts.

The Netherlands raised its national risk level to “substantial” earlier this month ahead of the film’s release.

A Dutch diplomat said the movie could “trigger fierce reactions” which could spread to other European countries.

“We will keep each other informed about the situation so that when the movie comes out we can all speak with one European voice,” Balkenende said.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, whose country faced riots and attacks on its embassies after Danish newspapers published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in 2006, said after the meeting that the Netherlands could count on EU solidarity.

Asked what lessons he drew from the cartoon case, Rasmussen told reporters: “It is fruitful to have a firm stance concerning freedom of expression.” He said it was up to the Dutch government whether to allow the video to be broadcast.

TROUBLES FOR NATO?

About 15,000 people protested in Afghanistan on Saturday, some burning Dutch and Danish flags in protest at Wilders’ film and to condemn the reprinting of the cartoon of Mohammad.

Dutch businesses fear a loss of trade in Muslim countries and Dutch embassies are braced for attacks.

Wilders -- the target of death threats on Islamic militant Web sites -- has given few details about his film. He said last week he was disappointed no Dutch broadcaster wanted to show it.

At least 50 people were killed and three Danish embassies attacked after cartoons of Prophet Mohammad, one showing him with a turban resembling a bomb, appeared in a Danish newspaper.

Fearing a similar backlash against the Netherlands, the Dutch government has not only urged Wilders not to broadcast but has distanced itself from his views and is mulling a ban.

“The vision of Mr. Wilders does not reflect the view of the Dutch government,” Balkenende said. “But even if you fundamentally do not agree ... it does not justify violent action.”

The Dutch diplomat said there was no mention of a ban in the discussion Thursday night.

There are some concerns within NATO that the controversy surrounding the video could make things worse for the 43,000-strong NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.

But Belgium’s NATO ambassador Franciskus van Daele said on Wednesday: “The Dutch government has done a superb job in trying to limit the potential collateral damages (of the controversy).”

Criticisms and warnings against broadcasting the movie are coming from one Muslim country after another. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said on Friday the film could derail inter-faith dialogue and threaten peace.

Additional reporting by Mark John; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Elizabeth Piper

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