Thousands protest Quran burning plan in Afghan north

Thousands of Afghans protested against the United States in the northeast on Friday, the largest demonstration since a small US church said it planned to burn copies of the Koran, an Afghan official said.

After special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, the crowd, estimated by a governor’s spokesman at 10,000, poured into the streets from mosques in Badakhshan province chanting anti-US slogans.

There were no signs of disturbance, the spokesman said.

The pastor of the small church in Florida, Terry Jones, said he had put a plan to burn Qurans on hold after the plan drew global condemnation.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed hope he would not proceed.

“The Quran is in the hearts and minds of all … Muslims but the affront against the Holy book is a humiliation to the people,” Karzai told reporters at his palace after prayers.

“We are hopeful that he gives up this affront and should not even think about it.”

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Jones to urge him to abandon the protest, intended to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks by militants on US targets.

The president of Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, called on the United States to ensure that no burnings took place.

“I continue to urge the government and the people of the United States to ensure the prevention of such an incomprehensible, irrational and immoral act,” Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a speech.

Both Muslim and Christian groups in Pakistan, another large mainly Muslim country, also denounced the planned action.