Cartoonist Lars Vilks makes first public appearance since Copenhagen shooting attacks

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks on Saturday made his first public appearance in Copenhagen after surviving an attack last month in the Danish capital, local media reported.

The 68-year-old cartoonist, who whipped up an outcry across the Muslim world with his 2007 sketch of Prophet Muhammad as a dog, had lived in a secret location since the Feb 14 attempt on his life.

A Dane of Palestinian origin had fired a series of shots at a Copenhagen cultural centre that was hosting a debate on free speech attended by the cartoonist, killing a filmmaker. The gunman later shot dead a Jewish man outside a synagogue before he was killed by the police.

On Saturday, Mr Vilks emerged in public to receive a prize awarded by a Danish association promoting free speech called Trykkefrihedsselskabet. The ceremony was held under tight police surveillance at the Christianborg Castle, which also houses the parliament and other Danish institutions, Danish news agency Ritzau reported.

Mr Vilks described himself not as an activist for freedom of speech but as a symbol.

"They say of me: he fights for freedom of expression, he does not give in. But the reality is the opposite: I am the most passive of them all," he said, according to Ritzau.

"I have now inherited this role of being the symbol of the freedom of expression," he added.

The right-leaning association itself is controversial in Denmark, with some accusing it of Islamophobia.

It had previously also conferred a similar award to Mr Kurt Westergaard - another cartoonist who has drawn sketches of the Prophet, as well as to former culture editor Flemming Rose, who published the caricatures in the daily Jyllands-Posten, sparking demonstrations across the Muslim world.

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