21 Mar 2003 | 18:09 GMT
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21 Mar 2003 16:19 GMT Print this Article Email this Article
Angry Arabs, Fiery Sermons, Condemn U.S.-Led War

By Caroline Drees

CAIRO (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters spilled onto the streets of Arab capitals after Muslim Friday prayers at which preachers across the Middle East condemned the United States for attacking Iraq.

For a second day, demonstrations swept the Arab world against the U.S.-led invasion intent on ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Protests also erupted in Italy, Germany and France.

In the Yemeni capital Sanaa, an 11-year-old boy and a policeman were shot dead in a clash between police and anti-war protesters, security sources said.

At least 10 people, including three policemen, were hurt in the shootout that flared after police blocked about 3,000 protesters from marching on the U.S. embassy in the Arab state.

Witnesses said the demonstrators set tires and garbage cans alight while chanting: "Oh youth of Islam, say no to war and yes to peace" and "No to U.S. hegemony and hypocrisy."

In Cairo, the biggest city in the Arab world with almost 17 million people, at least 5,000 angry protesters clashed with police using water cannon outside the historic al-Azhar mosque.

"With our heart and our soul, we sacrifice ourselves for Iraq," chanted demonstrators outside al-Azhar, and in the Palestinian cities of Gaza and Nablus.

In a rare statement, Egypt's interior ministry appealed to citizens to vent their frustration in an orderly manner through previously authorized demonstrations.

In Jordan, thousands of protesters fought baton-wielding riot police after the authorities sealed off parts of the capital, Amman, to foil Islamist organized pro-Iraq protests.

Scores of young people were injured and several arrested as police used tear gas to disperse worshippers in the city's Wihdat area, a predominately Palestinian refugee neighborhood.

"Death to America. Death to Israel, Oh Iraq remain steadfast in the face of vengeful (U.S. President George W.) Bush," thousands of youths chanted.

In Italy, about 200,000 farmers marched through Rome for peace, waving rainbow-colored flags and paralyzing traffic.

"I would like to cut out Bush's tongue -- it's a war for the rich and those who pay in the end are the poor people," one woman told Reuters Television.

In Germany more than 10,000 rallied. Activists blocked entrances to a U.S. military base in the southern city of Stuttgart as well as the American embassy in Berlin.

Stuttgart police carried about 50 sit-down protesters away from the gates of the U.S. European command headquarters (EUCOM), which is involved in logistics for the Iraq war.

Around 1,000 students in the French capital Paris staged an impromptu anti-war sit-down on Place de la Concorde.

In the Lebanese capital Beirut, police used tear gas and water cannon to hold back hundreds of stone-throwing youths who tried to march toward the U.S. mission.

Hundreds of protesters in Bahrain, the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, also took to the streets to show their fury.

"We reject the war against Iraq. Arab rulers should unify their ranks against it, and should not allow U.S. bases in Gulf Arab states," said laborer Adel Isa, 45.

In Kuwait -- which a U.S.-led coalition freed from Iraqi occupation in 1991 and which was a key staging post for the current invasion -- worshippers said Iraqis had suffered enough.


In Gaza, some protesters praised "beloved" Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and called on him to "strike Tel Aviv!"

Iraq launched missiles against Israel in the 1991 Gulf War.

"It is a war of the unbelievers against the Muslims in Iraq and everywhere," said Palestinian worshipper Amin Saeed. "What can we do? We are fighting Israel which represents the United States' dirty hand in the Middle East. We stand for Iraq."

"Saddam is the only honest and heroic Arab leader. All the others are cowards and collaborators with the Americans," said Umm Adel as she waved an Iraqi flag.

Arab states have tried to persuade restive publics they have done all they could to avert a war, but many Arabs say they are dismayed by their countries' diplomatic impotence.


In many Middle Eastern cities, Muslim preachers fired up their congregations with powerful sermons denouncing the war.

"Let God be with us (Muslims) against the infidels," said one in Cairo's downtown Gama'ia el-Shara'ia, asking God to punish the Americans.

From non-Arab Iran in the east to Morocco in the West, preachers accused Washington of stealing the region's resources and seeking global hegemony.

In Iran, which fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, Tehran's Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said the U.S. "aim is to dominate Iraq's oil wells and also to dominate the region, and give Israel the security and guarantee that nobody could harm it."

At Gaza's central al-Omari mosque, Imam Mohammed Nijen said "Arab leaders should open the borders so that fighters and volunteers can reach Iraq and defend Iraqi soil. Today jihad and the fight are a religious duty."

The Grand Sheikh of Cairo's al-Azhar Mohamed Sayyed al-Tantawy said in his sermon:

"Whoever defends the Iraqi people and himself and dies, will be considered a martyr...Islamic sharia law says we must defend the Iraqi people and stand by them. If we fail, we have wasted the trust that God has placed in us."

In Sanaa, one cleric wearing a traditional turban told scores of worshippers: "We pray for victory for the Iraqi people and for the defeat of the invading forces. May an earthquake overturn the American and British forces in Iraq."

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