Police Fire Tear Gas as Hundreds of Muslims Protest in Athens

Authorities fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of Muslims in central Athens on Friday as they protested a Greek policeman's alleged defacement of a Koran owned by an Iraqi immigrant.

The clashes occurred outside Parliament as the demonstrators threw rocks and plastic bottles at police, and smashed windows of a luxury hotel in central Syntagma Square. A police helicopter hovered overhead.

Chanting "God is great!" and waving leather-bound copies of Islam's holy book, about 1,000 Muslim immigrants had begun the demonstration with a march to Parliament to express their outrage. The clashes occurred after the protest had dwindled to about 300.

"We want the officer or officers involved to be prosecuted, and the government to issue an apology," protester Manala Mohammed, a Syrian national, told The Associated Press. "We want people to show us respect."

In a less violent demonstration on Thursday, police fired tear gas to dispel a few stone-throwing protesters. Later Thursday, police arrested an Afghan man on suspicion of trying to firebomb an Athens police station in an attack that left him severely burned.

Police said they will investigate the allegation that a police officer tore up the immigrant's copy of the Koran while checking his identity papers in Athens on Wednesday.

Most native-born Greeks are baptized into the Christian Orthodox Church.

Waves of illegal immigration over the past few years have led to an influx of Muslims, mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. The majority live in squalid, overcrowded apartments in poor areas.

Greek rights activist Thanassis Kourkoulas, one of the protest organizers, said the marches were intended to show immigrants "have a voice." He said, "What happened is a great insult to every Muslim, every immigrant and every Greek who respects democracy."