KABUL (Reuters) - Several hundred Afghans chanting “Death to America” rallied outside a mosque in the Afghan capital on Monday to protest against an American church’s plan to burn a copy of the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The protesters, mostly students from religious schools, gathered outside Kabul’s Milad ul-Nabi mosque to condemn plans by the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Centre to burn copies of the Koran to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks against the United States.
“We call on America to stop desecrating our Holy Koran,” student Wahidullah Nori told Reuters. He said the street protests condemning the church would continue “every day.”
U.S. President Barack Obama has made efforts to reach out to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims since taking office last year, most recently hosting Muslim leaders at the White House at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in August.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the “United States government in no way condones such acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam, and is deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups.”
“Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject this offensive initiative by this small group in Florida, a great number of American voices are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organisation,” it said in a statement.
A proposal to build an Islamic centre and mosque two blocks from the site of the worst of the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York has stirred heated debate in the United States.
Opponents of the plan say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda.
U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan soon after those attacks for harbouring al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
Demonstrations and riots triggered by reported desecration of the Koran are not infrequent in Afghanistan. The most violent protests came after cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2006.
In January this year, Afghan troops shot dead eight demonstrators and wounded 13 in southern Helmand province in a riot triggered by reports that foreign troops had desecrated the Koran during a raid. A spokesman for NATO forces denied the report.
Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Paul Tait