US: Quran abuse, protests mark 9/11
New York: The United States marked the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Saturday with commemorative ceremonies and although a pastor had cancelled plans for a high-profile protest burning of the Quran, the Muslim holy book was abused in at least three separate incidents.
Hundreds of people in favour and against the building of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near the site of the toppled World Trade Centre gathered in New York -- hours after ceremonies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to mark the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. The protests were peaceful.
But there were at least two incidents of abuse of the Quran in Lower Manhattan. Separately, two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Quran in Tennessee.
Florida preacher Terry Jones had outraged Muslims around the world with plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday.
But Jones, head of a tiny and obscure church in Gainesville, cancelled his plans on Thursday and told NBC`s `Today` show in New York he would not burn the Quran, "Not today, not ever”.
His proposed action had triggered outbreaks of violence in Afghanistan in which one protester was shot dead. Thousands of Afghans demonstrated in the northeast of the country for a second day.
President Barack Obama and US officials had warned that the burning of the Quran could harm America`s image abroad, endanger lives and act as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. Muslims view the Quran as the literal word of God, and actual or alleged desecration of the holy book has often sparked protests in the Muslim world
The proposed Islamic centre near Ground Zero, site of the toppled World Trade Centre, has sparked controversy for weeks, with promoters saying it will help bring the city`s disparate communities closer together but opponents saying it is insensitive to those who died in the September 11 attacks.
One man protesting against the centre tore pages from the Quran, and set them alight. In another incident, a man tore pages from a copy of the Quran and made vulgar gestures with it. Onlookers were shocked at the sight.
Near Nashville, Tennessee, evangelical Pastor Bob Old and another preacher used lighter fluid and a lighter to burn at least two copies of the Quran in his yard. Old called Islam "a false religion”.
There were no reports of any arrests.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered across the street from Jones` Dove World Outreach Centre church in Gainesville at the time the Quran burning had been scheduled to take place.
Local television showed them carrying signs reading "Dove Doesn`t Represent America" and "Burn Candles, Not Qurans”.
Police said they stopped one man near the church from trying to burn a Quran, but did not arrest him. "He took out a lighter and the book and we grabbed both of them off him," a Gainesville police spokeswoman said.
Obama calls for tolerance
Obama, who has sought to improve ties with the Muslim world frayed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the attacks, stressed religious tolerance in remarks at a memorial service in Washington. He said those who attacked the United States in 2001 tried to deprive Americans of their ideals.
"They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not and will never be at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day, it was al Qaeda -- a sorry band of men which perverts religion," he said.
As Obama spoke at the Pentagon, family and friends of those who died in the attacks in New York placed flowers in a pool at the site. The names of the 2,752 World Trade Centre victims were read out loud in a sombre ceremony.
Jones, who had arrived in New York from Florida on Friday night, said he came with the hope of meeting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is involved in the proposed Islamic centre and mosque near Ground Zero.
But the 58-year-old preacher, who says he received 100 death threats, said there would not be any meeting.
Jones` plans clearly inspired at least one of the copycat incidents.
"I saw that guy from Florida chicken out and what`s the old saying? If you want something done, do it yourself," said an unidentified middle-aged man, who said he drove from Pennsylvania to show New Yorkers what to do with the Quran, and who made vulgar gestures with a copy of the book.
In Gainesville, convenience store clerk Paula Smith expressed relief that Jones had called off the event.
"We`ve been put in the spotlight because of one man with a church of a few dozen people," she said. "I hope it hasn`t drawn too much attention away from 9/11, the victims and what happened that day."
More violence erupted in Afghanistan`s northeastern Badakhshan province on Saturday, where a day earlier a protester was killed outside a German-run NATO base, provincial police chief Aqa Noor Kentuz said.
In Denmark, authorities raised its attack preparedness after a man set off a small explosion in a Copenhagen hotel on Friday.
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