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War Protests Erupt in Middle East

War Protests Erupt in Middle East

Posted - Mar. 28, 2003 at 9:24 a.m.



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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Anger against the invasion of Iraq erupted in protests across the Middle East after Islamic prayers on Friday, with crowds provoking the police to fire shots in the air in Iran and tear gas in Jordan.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians demonstrated, denouncing both "Bush's barbarism" and "Saddam Hussein's dictatorship."

Demonstrators pelted the British Embassy in Tehran with stones, breaking windows and shouting for the embassy to be closed. The police fired into the air to disperse the crowd, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The United States has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979, when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and kept hostages for more than a year.

The cleric who delivered the Friday sermon that was broadcast on Iranian television, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, said: "Will bombs and the use of force bring democracy and freedom? It definitely will not."

The worshippers responded with shouts of "Death to America!" and "Death to Britain!"

Yazdi, a hard-line cleric opposed to the reformist policies of President Mohammad Khatami, accused the United States of taking the world back to "the law of the jungle" when "the mighty ruled over the weak."

A student protester, Fatemeh Bahaoddin, said the war was a "great injustice" to the Iraqi people.

"What sin have the Iraqi women and children committed?" she asked. "Why are the Americans and the British killing innocent people?"

The protests in Iran reflected the government's ambivalence about war in Iraq. Iran would love to see the end of Saddam Hussein, whom it blames for an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. On the other hand, Iran is loathe to see another neighbor -- after Afghanistan and Pakistan -- fall under American influence.

In Amman, Jordan, about 3,000 anti-war protesters were stopped by riot police who prevented them from reaching the Israeli Embassy. Another demonstration was reported in the southern Jordan city of Maan.

War Protests Erupt in Middle East

In Cairo, Egypt, more than 15,000 protesters marched from Al-Azhar mosque through the medieval part of the city, chanting "with our soul and blood, we redeem you Baghdad." Many demonstrators waved copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, and some held banners that read "Open the doors for Jihad," or holy war.

Plainclothes police officers beat two women and a teenager with plastic truncheons. But the demonstration was far calmer than one in central Cairo a week earlier, when rock-throwing protesters clashed with stick-wielding police and burned a fire engine.

After the violence, the government detained scores of political activists, including opposition members of parliament, a crackdown criticized by human rights groups.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians rallied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in their biggest show of support ever for Iraq, burning effigies of Western leaders and urging Saddam Hussein to attack Israel.

The marches could prove embarrassing for Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority which, while speaking out against the U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, has been careful not to express support for the Iraqi leadership.

Khaled Shaheen, 35, carried a poster of Saddam through the streets of Halhoul, West Bank, saying he was counting on the Iraqi leader to push Israel out of Palestinian lands.

"We are placing all our hopes in him to liberate us, and we hope he will win this war against Bush and Blair," Shaheen said.

As lawmakers in Islamabad, Pakistan, debated a resolution denouncing the war on Iraq, activists outside the legislature set doves free and lit a torch for peace. Lawmakers from the ruling party joined the protest, where demonstrators carried signs such as "Bush has gone mad."

Demonstrations have occurred almost daily in Pakistan, but most have been small and organized by the hard-line anti-American Islamic parties.

In the city of Peshawar, cleric Maulana Abdul Rauf urged a crowd of more than 2,000 people to boycott U.S. products. He gave traders one month to dispose of American goods in their stores.

In Indian-controlled Kashmir, police fired tear gas at protesters, while shops shut and roads were deserted for the second day in a row as part of a strike called by an outlawed Islamic rebel group.

After Friday prayers at the shrine for a 12th-century Muslim saint, about 250 Muslims shouted anti-American slogans and burned American flags and an effigy of President Bush, then hurled stones and bricks at police, who then burst tear gas shells to disperse them.

Muslims in Kashmir have a religious connection with Iraq, where the most revered of Muslim mystics, Abdul Qa'adir Jilani, is buried. Most Muslims in Kashmir are followers of the mystical order, the Qadiriyah, founded by Jilani in the 12th century.

Protests also erupted far from the Middle East.

In South Korea, police scuffled with anti-war protesters outside the National Assembly. A dozen cars at a Ford dealership on the outskirts of Rome were set on fire, and a banner reading "Sabotage the imperialist war" was hung on the gate of the lot.

And a 26-year-old Austrian man hang-glided into St. Peter's Square in the Vatican on Friday and tried to put up an anti-war banner. Police carried him away.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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