US pastor's plans for Koran burning condemned worldwide

8th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

The planned mass burning of copies of the Koran in the US state of Florida drew worldwide condemnation Wednesday, with the Vatican saying it would be "an outrageous and grave gesture."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the most senior US official to speak out against the burning scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, branded the plan by a little known evangelical church as "disgraceful."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said he was "deeply disturbed" by the planned burnings and said they "cannot be condoned by any religion." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the move was "abhorrent" and "simply wrong."

"If a fundamentalist, envangelical pastor in America wants to burn the Koran on September 11, then I find this simply disrespectful, even abhorrent and simply wrong," Merkel said in a speech.

"Europe... is a place where freedom of belief, of religion, where respect for beliefs and religions, are valuable commodities," Merkel said at an event honouring a Danish cartoonist whose 2005 drawing of the Prophet Mohammed offended many Muslims and sparked protests around the world.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton also condemned the planned act, while Arab League chief Amr Mussa dubbed Pastor Terry Jones a "fanatic" and told AFP he was urging Americans to oppose the "destructive approach."

Jones's Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to mark Saturday's ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning Korans as they remember almost 3,000 people killed by Al-Qaeda hijackers.

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue said in a statement: "Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection".

The Vatican council said "deplorable acts of violence" like those in New York and Washington could not be counteracted by such acts.

"Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion."

The White House added its voice to warnings that the move could trigger outrage around the Islamic world and endanger the lives of US soldiers.

"It puts our troops in harm's way. And obviously any type of activity like that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

He was reiterating comments by top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents.

The United Nations' top envoy for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, earlier said it would harm his staff if "such an abhorrent act were to be implemented, it would only contribute to fuelling the arguments of those who are indeed against peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan."

"It could also put in jeopardy the efforts of so many Afghans and foreigners who are trying to assist Afghanistan to find its own way to peace and stability within the framework of its own culture, traditions and indeed religion."

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group representing aid groups in Afghanistan, said ts members in the war-wracked country could be killed if Jones goes ahead with his "irresponsible" plan.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, who met with Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday said the top US law enforcement official described as "idiotic and dangerous" the Florida church's plan.

Police reportedly cannot intervene until Jones's followers actually light the 200 Korans.

A senior Muslim Brotherhood official, Essam al-Erian, said in Cairo that the Florida ceremony would be a "barbaric act reminiscent of the Inquisition" and would "increase hatred towards the United States in the Muslim world."

A top official of Cairo's Al-Azhar university, which US President Barack Obama referred to as a "beacon of learning" in an appeal for reconciliation with Muslims, warned that the plan risked destroying ties.

"If the government fails to stop this, this will be the latest manifestation of religious terrorism, and it would ruin America's relations with the Muslim world," said Sheikh Abdel Muti al-Bayyumi, who sits on the Sunni Muslim seat of learning's highest council, the Islamic Research Academy.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said the burning of the Koran contradicted Christian teachings.

In Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist Hamas movement, called on the US administration in a statement "to stop this crime before it takes place."

Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpaygani, a senior religious expert from Iran's holy city of Qom, said in a statement carried by Iranian media: "The decision to insult this sacred book, is an insult to all (religious) sanctities especially prophets Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Virgin Mary.

Jordan's powerful Islamist opposition also condemned the plans as "a declaration of war."

The German church founded by Jones denounced the plans as "shocking."

"We want to distance ourselves fully from this plan and from Jones," said Stephan Baar from the "Christian Community of Cologne" in western Germany.

© 2010 AFP

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