US tensions over Koran spark isolated incidents
Washington, September 12, 2010
The United States marked the anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks on Saturday with commemorative ceremonies.
Although a pastor had canceled plans for a high-profile protest burning of the Koran, the Holy book was abused in at least three separate incidents.
Hundreds of people in favour and against the building of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the toppled World Trade Center gathered in New York -- hours after ceremonies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to mark the attacks nine years ago that killed nearly 3,000 people. The protests were peaceful.
But there were at least two incidents of abuse of the Koran in Lower Manhattan. Separately, two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Koran in Tennessee.
Florida preacher Terry Jones had outraged Muslims around the world with his plans to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday. Jones, head of a tiny and obscure church in Gainesville, canceled his plans on Thursday.
The plan 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 on Saturday.
President Barack Obama and US officials had warned that the burning of the Koran could harm America's image abroad, endanger lives and act as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.
The proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, site of the toppled World Trade Center, 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 Sept 11 attacks.
One man protesting against the center tore pages from the Koran, and set them alight. In another incident, a man tore pages from a copy of the Koran 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 Koran in his yard. Old called Islam 'a false religion.' There were no reports of any arrests.
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 Center victims were read out loud in a somber 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 center 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. - Reuters