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Originally published Saturday, May 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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7 more die as protests spread over reported Quran defiling

Muslims from the Mediterranean to the Pacific protested yesterday over the reported desecration of the Quran by a U.S. soldier at Guant Guantánamo...

Newsday

KABUL, Afghanistan — Muslims from the Mediterranean to the Pacific protested yesterday over the reported desecration of the Quran by a U.S. soldier at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. In Afghanistan, where anti-American riots began three days ago, at least seven people were reported killed, doubling the death toll from the violence.

The upheaval kept the Bush administration on the defensive, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealing for calm and repeating assurances that the U.S. military is carefully investigating the Guantánamo incident.

While the protests have not been massive, analysts fear the issue is damaging U.S. diplomatic efforts in the region. In Afghanistan, the violence has disrupted what has been a virtual national consensus in support of the U.S. presence, raising the profile of America's militant opponents. Protests in Pakistan forced at least two U.S. consulates to close as a precaution.

To varying degrees, officials of the Pakistani, Indonesian and Saudi Arabian governments — all seen as essential to the U.S. "war on terror" — prodded Washington for action. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri called for severe punishment for any soldiers found to have desecrated the Quran — a crime that in Pakistan is punishable by death.

The uproar was ignited by a recent report in Newsweek magazine that U.S. troops had thrown a copy of the Quran into a toilet as part of their interrogation of Muslim prisoners. Afghan prisoners released from Guantánamo and other U.S. military prisons also say soldiers abused the Quran to horrify or humiliate prisoners.

In four Afghan provincial towns, violence broke out as crowds of men filled streets after the midday prayer.

At least four policemen were reported killed in Ghazni province and another person in the city of Gardez, both southwest of Kabul, and a protester was reported shot to death in Qalay-I-Nau, in the northwest as the violence spread from southern to northern Afghanistan for the first time.

Elsewhere, peaceful but angry Muslims protested in the Palestinian territories, Pakistan and Indonesia, according to news agency and television reports. The biggest march appeared to be in the northern Gaza Strip, where more than 1,000 Palestinians, including many activists of the Islamic militant movement Hamas, marched to chants of "protect our holy book."

Hundreds of Muslims protested at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia.

In a sermon in Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, a militant cleric and politician, Hafiz Hussain Ahmad, said: "We are hurt. ... If we don't rise against Americans, if we don't give them a strong message today, they will do it again."

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