Quran burning outrage builds as Muslims mark Eid

Afghan President says US pastor "should not even think" of burning the Quran.

Last Updated: Sep 10, 2010, 15:04 PM IST

Kabul: The Afghan President said on Friday a US pastor "should not even think" of burning the Quran at a provocative event marking 9/11, as Indonesia`s leader said nothing less than world peace was at stake.

In a turbulent start to the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, when Muslims worldwide mark the end of the Ramadan fasting month, radical Florida evangelist Terry Jones issued a heavily conditioned offer to call off his event.

"We have heard that in the US, a pastor has decided to insult Qurans. Now although we have heard that they are not doing this, we tell them they should not even think of it," Afghan President Hamid Karzai said.

"By burning the Quran they cannot harm it. The Quran is in the hearts and minds of one-and-a-half billion people. (But) insulting the Quran is an insult to nations," Karzai said in an Eid message.

Meanwhile, thousands of Afghans protested against the United States in the northeast on Friday.

After special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, the crowd, estimated by a governor`s spokesman at 10,000, poured into the streets from mosques in Badakhshan province chanting anti-US slogans.

There were no signs of disturbance, the spokesman said.

Thousands of Afghans had marched through a small town northeast of Kabul on Thursday, chanting anti-US and anti-Christian slogans to protest against the Quran-burning plans.

The commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, the UN mission in Afghanistan and leading aid organisations have all said the burning will endanger the lives of Afghans and foreigners if it goes ahead.

Jones said on Thursday he was putting his event planned for Saturday -- the anniversary of the September 11 attacks -- on hold and would cancel it if a planned Islamic cultural centre near Ground Zero in New York was relocated.

There have also been several protests by Islamists in Indonesia, the world`s most populous Muslim-majority country, which has suffered years of extremist violence.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono lashed out anew against Jones and his tiny evangelical denomination, located in Gainesville, Florida, a day after calling on US President Barack Obama to intervene.

"This threatens peace and international security. This is something that endangers harmony among religious people," Yudhoyono said in a nationally televised address marking the end of Ramadan.

"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," he said.

"Therefore I continue to urge the government and people of the United States to ensure the prevention of such an incomprehensible, irrational and immoral act."

The US pastor’s decision was also met with relief by some political leaders.

"Quran burning plan aborted! Sanity prevails," Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told followers on the social networking site, Twitter. "Praise be to Allah. Our challenge: promote peace and justice."

But cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers attending Friday morning prayers in Indonesia, the world`s most populous Muslim country, that Jones had already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world”.

"If he`d gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war," the Indonesian cleric said in the coastal town of Lhokseumawe. "A war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world."

The imam leading the New York project has denied any quid-pro-quo deal with Jones to move the planned centre, prompting the Florida pastor to accuse him of acting in bad faith and threaten afresh to go ahead with the burning.

Yudhoyono had written to Obama to appeal for his personal intervention, saying that torching the Koran would cripple the US President`s attempts to mend relations with the Muslim world.

Obama spent several years in Indonesia as a child after his mother married an Indonesian Muslim.

Concern is so high that US Defence Secretary Robert Gates put in a phone call to Jones to try to get him to change his mind, warning that the Koran burning would put US soldiers` lives at risk.

The State Department warned citizens of "the potential for anti-US demonstrations in many countries... some of which may turn violent", and global police agency Interpol predicted "tragic consequences".

The governments of Pakistan and India, which after Indonesia have the world`s biggest Muslim populations and also suffer from communal violence, have added their voices to a chorus of global outrage against Jones.

Bureau Report