Women in black Islamic veils marched through Srinagar, Indian-held Kashmir's capital, burning the American flag and copies of the US constitution, as schools and offices closed to protest against US soldiers' alleged desecration of the Quran.

"The defilement of our holy book is outrageous because we consider it to be the word of God," said Asiya Andrabi, head of the women's group Dukhtaran-e-Millat, or Daughters of the Community.

About 50 people turned out for the rally in central Srinagar, but demonstrations were expected to increase in Jammu-Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in predominantly Hindu India.

Strike

Almost all of Kashmir's religious and separatist groups backed Friday's general strike to protest over the alleged desecration. Schools and offices were closed across the Kashmir Valley, and traffic stayed off roads.

"(America) will never help find solutions that favour Muslims, be it in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, the Philippines or Iraq"

Asiya Andrabi,
Head of Dukhtaran-e-Millat

"Guantanamo Bay is a cage. It is not a prison," Andrabi said, only her eyes visible through her veil. "This is a token protest. Muslims and their symbols are being routinely insulted by the infidels. We are just expressing our hatred."

US officials have substantiated five cases in which military guards or interrogators mishandled the Quran at the prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but found "no credible evidence" to confirm a prisoner's report that one of the holy books was flushed in a toilet, the prison's commander has said.

A report in Newsweek saying that investigators found Guantanamo interrogators had flushed a copy of the Quran in a toilet to rattle Muslim prisoners, set off four days of riots in Afghanistan earlier this month, which claimed the lives of at least 14 people.

 

Under pressure from the Bush administration, Newsweek later retracted the story after its main source backed away from it.

 

Malaysian protest

About 300 Muslims held an angry demonstration on Friday outside the US embassy in Malaysia.

 

Protesters shouted "Go to hell America", waved placards reading "Long Live Islam" and burned US and Israeli national flags outside the embassy compound, which was guarded by anti-riot police armed with batons and shields.

 

Muslims in Malaysia held a
protest over alleged Quran abuse

The crowd dispersed peacefully after nearly an hour, when a delegation was allowed to hand a memorandum to an embassy official.

 

The protest, organised by the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, was the second of its kind in Kuala Lumpur in two weeks.

 

The protest was held after traditional Friday prayers, and protesters marched from a nearby mosque, disturbing downtown traffic.

 

Truth to allegations

 

Organisers of Friday's demonstration said they thought the allegations that US officials at the prison abused the Quran were true, despite Newsweek's retraction.

 

"From our sources, the allegations are true," Hassan Ali, the opposition party's vice-president, said.

 

"It has been happening and is still happening. We want some stern action against those involved."

 

The memorandum delivered to US diplomats denounced the torture of detainees "held dubiously as foreign fighters" as well as the "massive human rights violation" at Guantanamo Bay.

 

Pakistani protests 

 

Protests were held in Pakistan on Friday.

 

The demonstrations came a day after visiting US Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca assured Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf that the US would take action if anyone was found guilty of abusing the holy book.

 

"We want the United States to publicly apologise to the entire Muslim world and take stern action against those involved in the incident"

Liaqat Baloch,
Leader of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal

"We are holding countrywide rallies to condemn the desecration of the Quran at the Guantanamo Bay," said Liaquat Baloch, deputy chief of main Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-i-Islami and a central leader of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal alliance of religious parties.

 

"Mere regret is not enough. We want the United States to publicly apologise to the entire Muslim world and take stern action against those involved in the incident," he said.

 

"The Americans should also stop anti-Muslim policies."

 

UK protest

A protest organised by the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) was to be held later on Friday, outside the US embassy in London.

 

The protest, to start at 17.30pm (16.30 GMT) was being held in response to the "disgraceful acts" of US military personnel in Guantanamo, an MAB statement read.

 

The MAB said Friday has been declared as a day of global protest to show the unity of the Muslim ummah, or community.