- The Washington Times - Friday, May 13, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — Protesters threw rocks and police shot back yesterday as violent anti-U.S. demonstrations spread to more Afghan cities, leaving at least eight persons dead and threatening a security crisis for the government.

In neighboring Pakistan, street protests fizzled despite tough rhetoric from hard-line preachers over accusations that U.S. anti-terrorism interrogators desecrated Islam’s holy book. The rest of the Muslim world was mostly quiet, with only small rallies at a Palestinian refugee camp and in Indonesia.

Afghan officials suggested opponents of the country’s painstaking democratic rebirth were stirring up this week’s trouble, while the U.S. government appealed for calm and stressed that the desecration charge was being investigated by the Pentagon.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that if the accusations ?are proven true, we will take appropriate action. Respect for the religious freedom for all individuals is one of the founding principles of the United States.?

Pentagon officials said Thursday there was no evidence to corroborate reports that interrogators flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet to intimidate Muslim prisoners held at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that in an unconfirmed incident, a prisoner flushed pages from a Koran down a toilet in an attempt to clog it.

Yesterday’s deaths — reported in four Afghan towns and cities — brought to 15 the number of people killed in the biggest outpouring of anti-American sentiment since a U.S.-led military campaign drove the Taliban regime from power at the end of 2001.

The protests began after Newsweek magazine reported in its May 9 edition that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Koran in washrooms to unsettle suspects, and ?flushed a holy book down the toilet.?

Saudi Arabia joined fellow U.S. ally Pakistan in registering dismay over the report, as did the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a banned militant religious movement.

But aside from Afghans, few in Muslim lands have taken to the streets.

Some 1,500 activists from the Islamic militant group Hamas staged an anti-U.S. demonstration yesterday in the Gaza Strip, chanting ?Protect our holy book.? About 50 people demonstrated in the eastern city of Makassar in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

An appeal by Pakistan’s opposition Islamic coalition Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal for Muslims to protest after Friday prayers fell flat. Only a few hundred people turned out for peaceful demonstrations in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar.

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