Florida: A Florida pastor suspended plans to burn hundreds of Korans but the move failed to stem a global tide of Muslim outrage Friday, as he warned the torching ceremony could yet take place.
Radical evangelist Terry Jones first announced on Thursday he had scrapped Saturday`s mass immolation of the Muslim holy book after a day of high-stakes religious brinkmanship.
But when his claims that a deal had been struck to relocate a proposed Islamic cultural center in New York dissolved in acrimony, he threatened to go ahead with the event to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque," Jones said initially. "The American people do not want the mosque there, and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran."
Those behind the New York project, which is slated for a building two and half blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center struck down by 9/11 aircraft hijackers, quickly denied any agreement.
"We don`t know anything about it," Daisy Khan, one of its main promoters and the wife of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the project, said to a news agency.
"I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to burn any Korans," Rauf said in a later statement to CNN, before adding: "We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter."
Jones, whose tiny Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has a congregation of only 50, had cast himself as having single-handedly resolved the standoff thanks to his threat to desecrate the Koran.
But later, once Rauf denied any bargain, Jones resurrected the specter of the Koran-burning if no deal is done, saying he would "rethink our decision".
Commanders of the US-led war in Afghanistan have warned the torching could place their troops` lives in danger.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in a message to mark the start of the Eid al-Fitr festival, said Jones "should not even think" of burning the Koran.
"By burning the Koran they cannot harm it. The Koran is in the hearts and minds of one-and-a-half billion people. (But) insulting the Koran is an insult to nations," Karzai said.
Thousands of furious Afghans threw rocks Friday at a small NATO-run base in remote northeastern Afghanistan as they protested the church`s plans.
Across the border in Pakistan, hundreds of protesters rallied in the city of Multan where they set fire to American flags.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono lashed out anew against Jones 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," he said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad branded the episode a "Zionist plot" that would end up in the speedy "annihilation" of Israel, while Ismail Haniya, a top leader of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, called Jones an "insane lunatic."
Concern is so high that US Defense Secretary Robert Gates put in a personal phone call to Jones to try to change his mind, warning that the Koran burning would put US soldiers` lives at risk.
Obama said Jones`s planned burning would only serve as "a recruitment bonanza for Al-Qaeda."
Global police agency Interpol predicted "tragic consequences," with experts fearing riots in Muslim countries similar to those in response to the 2005 publication of cartoons blaspheming the Prophet Mohammed.
Initial relief at Jones`s apparent retreat turned to dismay when he renewed his threat and the supposed deal with Rauf unraveled.
Orlando-based imam Mohammed Musri, who helped set up Saturday`s meeting, said he made it clear to Jones that he could provide no assurances about the mosque project.
"What we agreed is, we had a commitment from the office of the imam in New York to set up a meeting and to invite Pastor Jones to present this proposal," Musri told CNN.
"We did not have an agreement from them... that the project will be moved or canceled in New York."