Khamis, 21 April 2011

The Malaysian Insider :: World

The Malaysian Insider :: World

Michigan jury to weigh mosque protest bid

Posted: 21 Apr 2011 06:33 PM PDT

Jones sits in the courtroom of the 19th District Dearborn Court in Dearborn, Michigan April 21, 2011. — Reuters pic

DEARBORN, April 22 —  A Dearborn, Michigan jury will consider today whether a controversial Florida pastor will have to post a "peace bond" before a planned demonstration in front of the largest mosque in the United States.

District Court Judge Mark Somers issued a preliminary ruling yesterday in favour of prosecutors who have sought the bond on the grounds that the appearance by Terry Jones would require heavy police protection to prevent violence.

A six-person jury will hear the case this morning.

Dearborn, which includes one of the largest Muslim American communities in the United States, has denied Jones and a handful of his supporters a permit to protest outside the Islamic Centre of America.

Detroit area clergy and community activists have rallied against the planned protest by Jones in recent days, calling him a divisive figure who practices hate speech.

Other commentators have argued that police and prosecutors have overstepped by trying to block Jones and violate the constitutional protection of free speech.

Jones, 59, is the leader of a fringe, fundamentalist church in Gainesville, Florida, who was unknown until his announced plans to burn a Quran catapulted him into headlines last year.

Jones, who represented himself in court yesterday, said he would attempt to protest outside the mosque with a handful of supporters even if he is barred.

"We have already, I think, made it very clear that our intentions are to continue to go on to protest in front of the Islamic Centre," Jones told reporters after an afternoon hearing on his planned protest.

A handful of protesters heckled Jones outside the Dearborn court and carried signs that read "Racist Terry Jones Get Out of Town" and "Stop Racist Muslim Attacks."

Meanwhile, several hundred community activists and Christian clergy rallied at the nearby mosque to show their support for the local Muslim community.

"Terry Jones does not represent the Christian community. He represents himself and only himself. What we see today is the real America," Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini, the mosque's spiritual leader, told reporters.

Jones has outraged the Muslim world with his publicity-grabbing protests against "radical Islam."

In a move that prompted riots in Afghanistan, Jones' tiny church in northern Florida burned a Quran last month following a mock "trial" of the text.

Jones says he is not against all Muslims but believes their religion can lead to violence and terrorism.

His Dove World Outreach Centre, a single-storey church backed by woods on the outskirts of Gainesville, reportedly has a congregation of only a few dozen adherents, including Jones family members and supporters, some of whom also wear guns.

The church's website has been offering for sale a book written by Jones entitled "Islam is of the Devil", and also T-shirts, baseball caps and mugs emblazoned with the words.

Jones is a former hotel manager who was previously ejected from a church he headed in Germany by his own followers there. — Reuters

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Prayers test Assad’s response to Syria protests

Posted: 21 Apr 2011 05:31 PM PDT

Assad delivers a speech during a broadcast by Syrian state television April 16, 2011. — Reuters pic

AMMAN, April 22 — The Syrian army deployed overnight in the flashpoint city of Homs, witnesses said, ahead of Friday prayers that have been marked by intensifying protests in the last five weeks against authoritarian rule.

The prayers will test whether President Bashar al-Assad's decision yesterday to lift emergency law, imposed by his Baath Party when it took power in a coup 48 years ago, will defuse mass discontent with repression and corruption.

Aided by his family and a pervasive security apparatus, Assad, 45, has absolute power in Syria.

More than 220 protesters have been killed since pro- democracy protests erupted on March 18 in the southern city of Deraa, including 21 protesters killed this week in Homs, rights campaigners say.

A decree Assad signed yesterday that lifted emergency law is seen by the opposition as little more than symbolic, since other laws still give entrenched security forces wide powers.

Human Right Watch said Assad "has the opportunity to prove his intentions by allowing (Friday's) protests to proceed without violent repression.

"The reforms will only be meaningful if Syria's security services stop shooting, detaining, and torturing protesters," said Joe Stork, the group's deputy Middle East director.

A rights activist said trucks carrying soldiers and vehicles equipped with machine guns were seen on the main highway from Damascus to Homs, a central city that has emerged as the new focal point of protests.

Residents organised neighbourhood patrols after 21 protesters were shot dead Monday and Tuesday by security police and gunmen known as "al-shabbiha".

Soldiers in groups of five patrolled the streets of Homs overnight on foot. Plain-clothed security police and security police wearing camouflage uniforms were also present, two witnesses said.

"We are determined on totally peaceful protests... we rejoice at the downfall of the state of emergency. It was not lifted, it was toppled... With the help of God, we will embark on freedom," a comment on a Facebook page run by activists said.

Emergency rule has been used since Assad's Baath Party seized power to justify arbitrary arrests and detention and a ban on all opposition.

Assad's conciliatory move to lift the state of emergency followed a familiar pattern since the unrest began a month ago: pledges of reform are made before Friday when demonstrations are the strongest, and are usually followed by an intense crackdown.

The authorities have blamed armed groups, infiltrators and Sunni Muslim militant organizations for provoking violence at demonstrations by firing on civilians and security forces.

Western and other Arab countries have mostly muted their criticism of the killings in Syria for fear of destabilising the country, which plays a strategic role in many of the conflicts in the Middle East.

Syria is technically at war with Israel but has kept its Golan Heights front with the Jewish state quiet since a 1974 cease-fire. It has long borders with Iraq, and supports the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas and the Shi'ite Hezbollah movement in neighbouring Lebanon, also backed by Iran. — Reuters

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