Political, religious leaders abroad blast Koran-burning plan

Political, religious leaders abroad blast Koran-burning plan

International pressure continued to mount Wednesday on a Christian pastor in the United States who plans to burn copies of the Koran this weekend to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, dpa reported

The top United Nations envoy to Afghanistan warned that the "International Burn a Koran Day" proclaimed by Florida pastor Terry Jones would threaten the peace work being done by Aghans and foreigners in the war-torn country - days after US military commanders there said it would also endanger the lives of soldiers.

"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," Staffan de Mistura, the UN secretary general's envoy to the country, said.

Hundreds of Afghans had already taken to the streets in Kabul on Monday to condemn the church's plan. They burned US flags and shouted "Death to America."

The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, an umbrella group of local and international organizations, called Wednesday for the US church's "irresponsible initiative" to be called off.

"In the context of Afghanistan, where the situation remains precarious, such an initiative could cost the lives of innocent civilians and dedicated humanitarian workers," it said.

The Vatican also joined the international chorus of condemnation, saying that the gesture would constitute an "outrageous and grave gesture" against Muslims and their holy book.

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

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, condemned the church's plans too, with spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic saying "this is not the right way to go forward."

Jones, who leads an evangelical congregation of just 50 members at the previously little-known Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, has said that he understands the concerns raised and is "weighing the situation," but still intends to go forward with the burning to protest Islamic extremism.

An independent church in Germany who used to be led by Jones denounced his plans as "violent and fanatical" on Wednesday.

Jones had founded the Cologne Community for fundamentalist Christians during the 1980s. But he was asked to leave in early 2008, after being convicted by a Cologne court for illegitimately using the title of "doctor" years earlier and then coming under fire in connection with financial irregularities at the church.

Stephan Baar, the deputy chairman of the church, said Wednesday his guess is that Jones will refuse to cancel his incineration plans.

"This plan of his deeply disturbs us. The very spirit that Jones says he opposes is what he is displaying himself: pro-violent and fanatical."

Germany's mainstream Lutheran church, which has more than 20 million members, also joined in the criticism.

Their umbrella council, the Evangelical Church in Germany EKD, called the Jones plan "an intolerable provocation" that flies in the face of Christian values.

The country's top Catholic bishop, Robert Zollitsch, said he is worried that the "entirely unacceptable provocation" would strain relations between Christians and Muslims across the world.

The heads of five Anglican churches in Jordan used the opportunity to "unequivocally declare that we - Christians and Muslims - are proud of the co-existence we experience in this beloved homeland." They called Jones' approach a "shameful practice."

The president of Germany's Central Council of Jews, meanwhile, called to mind the Nazis systematically burning Jewish books in 1933, saying that the notion is "appalling and repulsive."

"We cannot allow politics of fear and hatred - practiced, often subtly, in certain circles and almost always accepted in silence - to continue unabated and bear fruits," she said

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