Petraeus condemns Fla. church's plan to burn Korans

Hundreds of people gathered in Kabul on Monday to denounce a U.S. church's plan to burn the Islamic holy book on the anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks.
By David Nakamura and Javed Hamdard
Tuesday, September 7, 2010; 3:16 PM

KABUL - Gen. David H. Petraeus on Tuesday denounced plans by a Florida church to burn copies of the Koran this weekend, saying the demonstration could "endanger troops" and damage the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan.

"It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems," Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in a statement. "Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

The White House also condemned the Florida church's plan, with press secretary Robert Gibbs reiterating Petraeus's contention that U.S. forces could be put in harm's way as a result. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called the proposed demonstration "un-American" and said it was "inconsistent with the values of religious tolerance and religious freedom."

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Habibullah, a religious leader who organized a protest Monday morning in eastern Kabul to decry the Florida church's plan, said throngs of angry men chanted, "Death to America!" and "Death to Obama!"

He said some of the protesters pelted a passing U.S. military convoy with stones.

"I stopped them," said Habibullah, who uses one name. "Otherwise they would have burned the convoy."

The Dove World Outreach Center, a 50-member evangelical Christian church in Gainesville, Fla., announced plans to burn the Islamic holy books on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. At the Kabul protest, residents burned an effigy of Dove World pastor Terry Jones.

"I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible Koran burning," Petraeus said. "Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen backed that warning Tuesday. He said that any burning of Korans would strongly contradict "all the values we stand for and fight for."

In Florida, Jones rejected the warnings and said his church plans to go through with its "International Burn a Koran Day."

Jones said he agrees with Petraeus that burning copies of the Koran could provoke violent opposition, but he argued that the United States should stop apologizing for its actions and bowing to kings, the Associated Press reported. He apparently referred to a London summit meeting in April 2009 when President Obama greeted Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah II, now 86, by clasping his hand and bowing.

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