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Volgograd journalists resist closing paper after cartoon scandal


VOLGOGRAD, February 17 (RIA Novosti, Irina Ilyicheva) - Journalists in Volgograd, a major city in southern Russia, protested Friday against closing a local newspaper embroiled in a controversy over the publication of a religious cartoon.

"The decision of the Volgograd administration to close down the Gorodskiye Vesti newspaper for publishing a religious illustration casts doubts on the main principle of a democratic state - freedom of speech," journalists said in an open letter.

The Gorodskye Vesti newspaper in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad, the site the largest battle of WWII), carried an article entitled: "No room for racists in power". The article was accompanied by an illustration depicting Jesus Christ, Moses, Buddha and Mohammed in front of a television showing two groups of people about to start a fight. The caption read "We didn't teach you this."

The authors of the letter said the publication had not caused a negative reaction among believers, but had become a political matter.

According to Volgograd media, the closing of Gorodskye Vesti is an attempt to find culprits in an "artificially sparked scandal, is presented an incitement of inter-religious discord."

Volgograd Deputy Mayor Andrei Doronin said the City Hall, as the founder of the newspaper, would close down Gorodskye Vesti.

"We have carefully studied the article and decided to close down the newspaper in order not to inflame ethnic hostilities," he said.

On Wednesday, prosecutors announced that they were launching a probe into the matter after local politicians and representatives of public organizations voiced their concerns in the wake of the recent wave of protests that engulfed the Muslim world after satirical cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed were published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted internationally.

Gorodskiye Izvestia Editor Tatyana Kaminskaya apologized for any offense that may have been caused, but added that she had received no complaints from religious or ethnic communities. She justified the article by saying that it was a protest against religious and ethnic intolerance.

"I can't understand why anyone could come to such conclusions," she said. "The piece is against religious and ethnic intolerance. A caricature is something comical but with a malicious depiction of reality - there was nothing of that sort in our newspaper."

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