Pastor insists he will burn copies of Koran
Cleric ignores warnings that event will endanger US troops
AN obscure US Christian pastor whose plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11 has sparked an international outcry insisted last night that he will still go ahead with the event -- despite US warnings that it will endanger American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Pastor Terry Jones, leader of a tiny Protestant church in Gainesville, Florida, which openly campaigns against what it calls "radical Islam," is facing a barrage of calls from US government, military and religious leaders -- as well as from abroad, including the Vatican -- to cancel his plans to publicly burn Islam's sacred text.
"We are still determined to do it, yes," Mr Jones said, adding that he wanted the Koran-burning to send a "warning" to what he called "hardline Muslims".
He said: "We are sending a message to them that we don't want them to do as they appear to be doing in Europe. We want them to know that if they're in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not push their agenda on us."
The planned event on the ninth anniversary of the al-Qa'ida attacks on the United States has attracted worldwide condemnation and touched off protests in Afghanistan and Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.
It also comes near the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and amid heightened tensions in the US over a controversial proposal to build an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near the site of the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks in New York.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the burning was a "disgraceful plan" that could be harmful to US troops.
"We are hoping that the pastor decides not to do this," Mrs Clinton told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington yesterday.
The Vatican also condemned the pastor's gesture, saying: "The terrorist attacks cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community."
The actress Angelina Jolie, who is in Pakistan as a goodwill ambassador for the UN, also appealed to the pastor to abandon his plan.
Local authorities have warned Mr Jones that he will violate city ordinances if he goes ahead without proper authorisation. City officials have denied his request for a burn permit.
The event by Mr Jones, a grey-haired, mustachioed pastor with mutton-chop sideburns who has authored a book titled 'Islam Is Of The Devil', drew more criticism from top US military officials yesterday.
At the Pentagon, defence secretary Robert Gates told staff he "strongly endorsed" the view of his military commanders that any Koran-burning plan could endanger US lives, according to a Pentagon spokesman.
General Ray Odierno, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, said the event would only provoke Muslim extremists and increase the threats to troops.