Friday, May 27, 2005

And we want these people to vote?

CNN - Thousands of Muslims marched Friday in Islamic countries from Asia to the Middle East, burning symbols of the United States to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran by military personnel at a American prison in Guantanamo, Bay, Cuba.

The rallies in Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere followed an admission Thursday by U.S. investigators that Islam's holy book was mishandled at Guantanamo.

But American officials said it was often inadvertent and denied that any Qurans were flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek magazine had reported in a now-retracted article.

No injuries were reported in Friday's demonstrations, with police simply watching in most places.

In India's Kashmir region, however, police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse hundreds of Muslims gathered outside a mosque in the capital of Srinagar.

Women in black veils marched through Kashmir, where schools and businesses were closed as part of the protest, and set American flags and copies of the U.S. Constitution ablaze.

"The defilement of our holy book is outrageous because we consider it to be the word of God," thundered Asiya Andrabi, head of the women's group Daughters of the Community, through her veil. "Guantanamo Bay is a cage. It is not a prison."

More than 15,000 people took to the streets of Pakistan's largest cities. A demonstration in the capital of Islamabad began in a tense atmosphere, hours after a bomb at a Muslim shrine killed more than 15 people at an annual celebration. The motive for the suspected suicide bombing was not immediately clear. (Full story)

"We condemn sacrilege of the Quran by U.S. extremists," read one banner draped across a bus while protest leaders chanted into loudspeakers during a rally of at least 2,000 in Islamabad.

In Pakistan's southwestern city of Quetta, 5,000 demonstrators chanted slogans against the United States and Britain. Another 5,000 gathered in the southern city of Karachi, demanding the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador. Protests also were held in Lahore, near the Indian border.

The rallies were organized by a hard-line religious coalition, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum -- a vocal opponent of Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

About 12,000 people, many of them supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, gathered in Alexandria, Egypt, filling a three-story building and spilling into surrounding streets, listening to preachers who demanded an apology from U.S. officials. The neighborhood was ringed by police, who arrested 12 of the demonstrator's organizers.

About 1,000 people -- mostly lawyers -- gathered in downtown Cairo and were surrounded by double that number of riot police.

A similar number gathered in the Lebanese capital of Beirut, carrying black banners and burning American and Israeli flags.

"We will cut off the feet that desecrated the Quran!" the crowd yelled.

Nearly 1,000 people demonstrated in the predominantly Shiite southern Iraqi city of Basra to protest the alleged desecrations. They also condemned the alleged desecration of a Quran in Ramadi two weeks ago by "Americans and Jews."

Two straw dolls -- of President Bush and a rabbi -- were beaten with shoes and slippers, and American, British and Israeli flags were burned.

Thousands gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, and demanded an investigation into all actions against Muslims held in Guantanamo.

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, protesters shouted, "Go to hell, America!" and waved placards reading "Long Live Islam," as they burned U.S. and Israeli flags outside the U.S. Embassy. Riot police guarded the compound, and the crowd dispersed peacefully nearly an hour later after handing a note to embassy officials. The protest was the second of its kind in as many weeks.

About 50 people chanted anti-American slogans and threw tomatoes at a portrait of Bush in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The protesters were outnumbered 4-1 by police officers in riot gear and left after about an hour.

In Bangladesh's capital of Dhaka, about 5,000 people rallied after Friday prayers, spitting on U.S. flags, kicking them and then burning them. They shouted "Death to America!" and "Destroy America!" Many carried copies of the Quran, held over their heads.

The protesters used shoes to beat a Bush dummy and burned an effigy of the president, chanting "Bush -- the killer!" Riot police watched the demonstrators, who dispersed peacefully.

"No one has the right to debase our holy book. We are prepared to die to protect the honor of our religion," Fazlul Huq Amini, a lawmaker from Islamic Oikya Jote told the rally.

The groups included Islamic Oikya Jote or Islamic Unity Council, a member of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia.

Anti-U.S. sentiment has been running high in Muslim countries since the Newsweek report. The Bush administration blamed it for demonstrations this month in Afghanistan, where more than a dozen people died and scores were injured.

In Washington on Thursday, investigators confirmed five cases in which military personnel mishandled the Qurans of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. But they said they found no "credible evidence" that a holy book was flushed in a toilet. (Full story)

Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood, the Guantanamo Bay prison commander who led the investigation, said five of 15 alleged incidents were substantiated. Four were by guards and one was by an interrogator.

Hood said the five cases "could be broadly defined as mishandling" of the holy book. He refused to discuss details but said two of the cases apparently were accidental.

Hood emphasized that his investigation was not complete.