Protests against US Koran-burning sweep Afghanistan

  • Published

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets across Afghanistan over plans, now on hold, by a small Florida church to burn copies of the Koran.

Three people were shot when a protest near a Nato base in the north-east of the country turned violent.

President Hamid Karzai said the burning plan insulted Islam while Indonesia's leader said it threatened world peace.

President Barack Obama has denied Washington's involvement elevated the story to greater prominence.

"In the age of the internet it is something that can cause us profound damage around the world, so we've got to take it seriously," he said at a White House news conference.

Mr Obama repeated his warning that the burning would aid al-Qaeda and called for Americans to stand together and not turn on each other.

The Florida-based pastor behind the threat, Terry Jones, has said he currently has no plans to carry it out.

But the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says many people in Afghanistan may not have known the burning had been put on hold or if they did, remained incensed by the idea.

Many of Friday's protests in Afghanistan were held after worshippers emerged from mosques, following Eid prayers marking the end of Ramadan.

Some demonstrators burned a US flag and chanted "Death to Christians".

In Badakhshan's provincial capital Faizabad, 1,500 people took to the streets, the police chief told the BBC.

About 150 people took part in another protest in the city, throwing rocks and attempting to climb the walls of a Nato facility where German soldiers are based.

Private security guards opened fire, wounding three people, said the police chief.

There have also been major rallies in Kabul over the past week and rallies were also held in several of Afghanistan's 34 provinces on Friday:

  • in Nimruz's provincial capital Zaranj
  • in the Khas Kunar district of Kunar
  • in Khewa district, Nangarhar province
  • in the Tagab district of Parwan province, just north of Kabul
  • in the northern Baghlan, Kunduz and Balkh provinces
  • in western Farah province.

Witnesses said the protesters voiced anger that the US government had not banned the Koran bonfire.

In an Eid message, President Karzai said: "We have heard that in the US, a pastor has decided to insult Korans. Now although we have heard that they are not doing this, we tell them they should not even think of it.

"By burning the Koran, they cannot harm it. The Koran is in the hearts and minds of one-and-a-half billion people. Insulting the Koran is an insult to nations."

Further demonstrations are planned for Saturday, leading to fears of more violence.

International protest

There has been an angry reaction to Mr Jones's plans in many Muslim countries.

At least 200 people protested in the central Pakistan city of Multan, where one imam told the crowds that postponing the burning was not enough.

"We will continue to raise our voice, so that it never happens again," the AFP news agency quoted Mufti Hidayatullah Pasroori as saying.

A small rally was also reported in southern Karachi, Pakistan's largest city.

The president of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, warned in a nationally televised address on Friday that Mr Jones's plan threatened world peace.

In a speech marking the end of Ramadan, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said: "I'm of course aware of the reported cancellation of the deplorable act by Terry Jones. However, none of us can be complacent until such a despicable idea is totally extinguished."

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said Mr Jones' threat was an "expression of hatred of Islam" but called for restraint.

"This disgraceful act contradicts the very duties of religious and spiritual leadership to enhance the value of peaceful coexistence and safeguard the rights and mutual respect among religions," he said.

In Gaza, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Mr Jones was a "crazy priest who reflects a crazy Western attitude toward Islam and the Muslim nation".

'Clearly lied'

Mr Jones, pastor of the tiny and previously little-known Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, announced on Thursday that he was putting on hold his plan for an "International Burn a Koran Day".

He told reporters he had spent days waiting for a sign from God to cancel the event.

This had come, he said, in the form of a deal with Imam Muhammad Musri, from the Islamic Society of Central Florida, to relocate a controversial Islamic cultural centre due to be built near Ground Zero in New York.

But those behind the cultural centre immediately denied that they had ever spoken to the Orlando-based imam or Mr Jones, while Mr Musri said Mr Jones had "stretched and exaggerated" his statements.

He said he had only ever agreed to fly to New York with Mr Jones on Saturday and speak with the leaders of the Islamic centre project.

Mr Jones, who had been visited by the FBI earlier on Thursday, said Mr Musri had "clearly lied", but he told ABC's Good Morning America he believed Mr Musri would travel with him to New York.

The imam of the centre, Feisal Abdul Rauf, told ABC News he remained opposed to relocating it, in case it boosted extremism by giving the impression that Islam was "under attack in America".

In a statement, he said: "We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."

The top US general in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, warned earlier this week that the lives of Americans serving abroad would be endangered if the Koran burning went ahead.