Iraq protesters burn papal effigy, want apology

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Basra (Iraq), Sept 18: Chanting slogans and burning a white effigy of Pope Benedict, up to 150 demonstrators in the Iraqi Shi'ite city of Basra demanded a papal apology today for comments that have offended many Muslims worldwide.

The protesters also burned German, US, and Israeli flags.

''No to aggression!'', ''We gagged the Pope!'', they chanted in front of the governor's office in southern Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.

The protest was organised by supporters of hardline Shi'ite cleric Mahmoud al-Hasani. Last month, gunmen loyal to Hasani fought clashes with Iraqi soldiers in the holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala.

''Grand Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hasani demands that the Pope and the Vatican be put on trial under UN Security Council resolutions,'' said Sheikh Ahmad Saadi.

The German-born head of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics sparked worldwide Muslim anger because of comments seen as portraying Islam as a religion tainted by violence. The Pope said yesterday he was deeply sorry Muslims were offended by his use of a medieval quotation on Islam and violence.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has called for calm and urged Muslims not to take out their anger over the Pope's remarks on the country's small Christian minority.

The government has also sought explanations from the Vatican's top diplomat in Baghdad and through its own embassy in the Vatican.

The door of a Christian church in Basra was vandalised last week in an attack apparently linked to the Pope's comments.


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