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Iraq: Thousands Protest Cleric's Arrest

Thousands of chanting demonstrators poured into the streets of downtown Baghdad Wednesday in anger over the continued detainment of a religious leader.

As many as two thousand Iraqi protesters demonstrated for a second day in downtown Baghdad, demanding the release of an Islamic cleric taken into custody by U.S. authorities.

The demonstration began after American officials held talks Wednesday with a group of clerics, but failed to resolve the issue.

The cleric, Moayed al-Khazaraji, was arrested Monday. U.S. authorities said he had collected weapons in a mosque and was inciting violence against coalition forces.

Marching through the streets of Baghdad the demonstrators chanted their support for Islamic scholars. Still others demanded the establishment of a new Iraqi army.

One of the demonstrators, Abu Fatma al-Sudani, himself an Islamic cleric, said the arrest of religious leaders causes him to wonder about the freedom Americans had promised.

He says the American occupiers promised democracy, freedom and a better life, the three things he says Iraqis were deprived of under Saddam Hussein. But, he says, when U.S. forces arrest religious leaders Iraqis can only ask, where is the freedom?

Wednesday's demonstration caused huge traffic jams throughout downtown Baghdad as coalition forces attempted to divert traffic away from the protest.

There were no significant reports of clashes between the protesters and coalition troops as a result of Wednesday's demonstration.

A smaller protest late Tuesday near a mosque in Baghdad resulted in shots being fired into the air by U.S. troops who also used concussion bombs to disperse the angry crowds.