ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Thousands of Muslims marched Friday in Islamic countries from Asia to the Middle East, burning symbols of America to protest the alleged desecration of the Koran (search) by military personnel at a U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The rallies in Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere followed an admission Thursday by U.S. investigators that Islam's holy book was mishandled at Guantanamo Bay (search). But American officials claimed it was often inadvertent and denied that any Korans were flushed down a toilet, as Newsweek magazine had reported in a now-retracted article.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, just hours after a bomb at a Muslim shrine killed at least 20 people at an annual celebration. The motive for the suspected suicide bombing was not immediately clear.
"We condemn sacrilege of the Koran 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 (search), or United Action Forum — a vocal opponent of Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search).
About 12,000 people, many of them supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood (search) 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 Koran!" the crowd yelled.
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 President 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 Koran, 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 (search) or Islamic Unity Council, a member of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Khaleda Zia (search).
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 Korans 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.
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.