KABUL -- Afghan police went on alert on Wednesday to guard against demonstrations triggered by a U.S. church's plan to burn a copy of the Quran on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which has drawn global condemnation.
Tension has risen with the approach of the ninth anniversary on Saturday of the Sept. 11 hijacked airliner attacks on the United States and the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Eid al-Fitr is expected to be celebrated on Thursday or Friday.
Plans by Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Fla., to burn a copy of the holy Muslim book have added to what U.S. religious leaders have described as an "anti-Muslim frenzy."
The United Nations said such an act would be "abhorrent."
"On behalf of the United Nations and the whole international community present in Afghanistan, I would like to express in the strongest possible terms our concern and indeed outrage at the announcement by a small religious group abroad of their intention to burn copies of the holy book of the Quran," United Nations envoy Staffan de Mastura said in a statement issued in Kabul.
The planned Quran-burning by the Dove World Outreach Center sparked protests by several hundred Afghans in Kabul this week, mostly students from religious schools. Gathered outside a mosque in the Afghan capital, they chanted "Death to America".
A senior police official in Kabul, who asked not to be identified, said an Interior Ministry anti-demonstration unit had been put on high alert on Wednesday in case protests broke out.
There have been frequent protests in the past over similar incidents. In 2006, about a dozen people were killed in violent protests in Kabul after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad and a similar number died in another protest a year earlier.
Last January, Afghan troops shot and killed eight protesters and wounded 13 in southern Helmand province during a riot triggered by the reported desecration of a Quran.
Two of the top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have said the Florida church's plan risked undermining President Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.
The White House and the State Department have also issued stern warnings, making it clear Obama's administration deplored the plan.
Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said the plan could trigger retaliation against U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort," Petraeus said this week.
Petraeus commands almost 150,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
The Taliban government was ousted soon after the Sept. 11 attacks for harbouring al-Qaida leaders including Osama bin Laden.
On Wednesday, the Vatican added to world condemnation of the planned Quran burning.
"These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community," the Vatican said.
"Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection."
Germany's leading Jewish group joined the chorus of condemnation, saying it evoked the mass killing of Jews in the Holocaust that followed Nazi book burnings.
"The idea is terrible and repulsive," said Charlotte Knobloch, president of Germany's Central Council of Jews.
In Pakistan, actress Angelina Jolie said she "hardly had the words" to express her opposition.
The Oscar-winning actress was in Pakistan to highlight the plight of millions of people devastated by Pakistan's worst-ever floods.
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