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Over 200,000 in Beirut rally against US attacks on Iraq holy sites
BEIRUT - Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims, mostly supporters of the militant Hezbollah, turned out in Beirut Friday in a massive show meant as a strong warning to the United States against attacking holy sites in Iraq.
Wearing white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die in defense of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq, the demonstrators, estimated at more than 200,000, shouted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" as they marched in Beirut's teeming southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold.
A protest march by about 5,000 Shiites in Bahrain led to clashes with police in which at least three people were injured by shotgun pellets and 10 treated for tear gas inhalation. Later Friday, the Bahraini king fired the interior minister over the clashes, saying the demonstration should have been allowed.
Also Friday, a small demonstration was held outside the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran.
The Lebanon demonstration was in response to a call by Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah earlier this week for "a symbolic demonstration to tell America that we are ready for martyrdom to defend our holy places."
Nasrallah accused U.S. forces of desecrating holy shrines in Iraq, and called on Muslims to fight to the death to defend the sanctities in Najaf and Karbala.
U.S. soldiers have been fighting militiamen of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf and Karbala during the past two weeks. During last weekend's fighting, the golden dome of the Iman Ali mosque in Najaf was lightly damaged, but it was not clear which side was responsible. The Imam Ali mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, who is revered by Shiites.
Addressing the crowd at the end of the march, Nasrallah renewed his call on the Americans to leave Najaf and Karbala, else the situation become more dangerous.
"We will not abandon our religious duty. Today's march is a step on the road to defending the holy sites. Any other thing (fighting) decided by our religious duty we will do without hesitation regardless of the sacrifices and calculations," he said. "Let the Americans understand that those who wore shrouds today, including clerics, men, women, children and adults, did not come to show off."
The men beat their chests as they chanted slogans against the United States and Israel. They shouted "Oh Hussein" and "Here we come, Hussein! Here we come, Hussein."
They were referring to the Shiite saint Imam Hussein, a son of Imam Ali, who is buried in a shrine in Karbala.
In Iran, where protests have been staged almost daily this week, about 200 protesters outside the British Embassy were outnumbered by 300 police. The crowd, some throwing stones and firecrackers, demanded that the embassy be closed and the ambassador expelled.
"Down with Britain!" many yelled. "Down with Israel, UK, USA," read a banner. Police shoved back against the advancing crowd, beating them with sticks.
In downtown Amman, Jordan, around 1,000 worshippers representing opposition parties held a one-hour sit-in in front of al-Husseini Mosque to protest Arab
silence on the Israel Defense Forces operation in Rafah, in which at least 40 Palestinians have been killed.
The protesters carried red and green Jordanian and Palestinian flags. They shouted the battle cry of "Allah Akbar," or God is great, "America, America is the same, America is the head of the snake," and "Rabieh needs to be purified," referring to the location of the Israeli Embassy in Amman.
Lebanese Shiite Muslims wearing burial shrouds wave Hezbollah flags and a portrait of rebel Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, during a rally in the southern suburbs of Beirut.(AFP/Haitham Mussawi)
Lebanon protesters chant slogans against U.S. and Israel as they raise a poster of Iraqi rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr during a rally in Beirut, May 21, 2004. Tens of thousands of Lebanese Shi'ites in white shrouds marched in a Beirut suburb on Friday in a collective show of willingness to die in defense of holy shrines in U.S.-occupied Iraq. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir