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An evangelical pastor insisted his plans for a mass torching of the Koran would go ahead after US




'Commitment to religious tolerance'

US officials express 'unequivocal condemnation' of 'disgraceful' Koran-burning act.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the "disgraceful" burning ceremony in Florida.

Clinton was the most senior US official to speak out against the torching scheduled for the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, saying she was "heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths."

The White House also added its voice to warnings that the move could trigger outrage around the Islamic world and endanger the lives of US soldiers.

"It puts our troops in harm's way. And obviously any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

He was reiterating comments by top US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who warned burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," said Petraeus of the plan, adding that it could cause significant problems "everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."

But a small church, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to mark Saturday's ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning Korans as they remember the almost 3,000 people killed by Al-Qaeda hijackers.

"We are taking his concerns very seriously," pastor Terry Jones told CNN late Tuesday, referring to Petraeus, but "we right now have plans to continue."

Although the fire authorities turned down an application a few weeks ago from Jones to hold the open-air burning ceremony, police cannot intervene until they actually light the 200 Korans.

Even then, no arrests would be made as contravening local ordinances is only a misdemeanor, and citations -- fines and warnings -- are issued in such cases.

Jones said the Koran torching aimed "to remember those who were brutally murdered on September 11," and to send a warning "to the radical element of Islam."

The move comes against a backdrop of Islamophobia driven by plans to build an Islamic cultural center in New York close to Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Center stood before it was destroyed in the 2001 attacks.

US Attorney General Eric Holder met religious leaders to discuss ways of stemming the anti-Islam tide, with calls from the broad coalition of faiths to make a strong speech condemning hate crimes.

Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Khera said after the meeting that Holder had described the Koran-burning plan as "idiotic and dangerous," but regretted the ceremony itself was not a violation of federal law.

Saturday's anniversary is set to coincide with festivities for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a time of prayer and fasting for nearly 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.

Jones remained defiant. "Instead of us being blamed for what other people will do or might do, why don't we send a warning to them?" he said.

Religious bigotry was roundly condemned at a press conference called by the coalition of inter-faith leaders meeting with Holder.

"To those who would exercise derision... bigotry, open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith, I say shame on you," said Richard Cizik, one of the country's most prominent evangelical leaders.

"We are profoundly distressed and deeply saddened by the incidents of violence committed against Muslims in our communities. And by the desecration of Islamic houses of worship," added Rabbi Nancy Kreimer.

There have already been protests in the Afghan capital Kabul and in Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim-majority country -- against Jones's plans while Iran has warned it could unleash an uncontrolled Muslim response.

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