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Lebanese Muslims Protest Over Alleged Desecration of Koran

Hundreds of Muslims marched through the streets in Beirut Friday to deliver a statement to the prime minister asking him to shut down the American Embassy in Lebanon.

Leaving the mosques after Friday prayer in downtown Beirut, supporters of the Muslim Liberation Party protested against the reported desecration of the Koran by the American military.

Earlier this month, Newsweek magazine published an article that said a military investigation had found that interrogators at Guantanamo, a U.S. military camp in Cuba, had placed a Koran in a toilet and flushed it down to upset detainees under interrogation. Newsweek later retracted the story.

The crowd waved black and white flags and carried their holy book high above their heads.

One young protester wearing a New York Yankees hat, Nassim Faroukh, says American businesses should leave Lebanon.

"They don't respect our Koran. They have to stop telling us about peace and other things that they don't do. We want them to get out from our country and only to do their business in their country," he said.

Riot police helped maintain control of the demonstration as participants walked through the business district chanting "God is great". One of the spokespeople for the group, Amir Miknass, says the protest is against the American administration and not the American people.

"The regime is different than the people. The government, which leads the forces in Iraq and Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib to what they've done to the Koran, we blame them. They have the responsibility about this thing," he said.

The U.S. government and military officials have repeatedly stated that they are not specifically targeting Muslims.

Brigadier General Jay Hood, the commander of the Joint Task Force in Guatanamo Bay addressed the U.S. Department of Defense Thursday and said there was no credible evidence that a copy of the Koran was flushed down a toilet.

General Hood said the U.S. military would continue to investigate any allegations of abuse or mistreatment of prisoners by guards or interrogators. As part of his investigation, he will also be reviewing standard operating procedures at Guantanamo and will revise them if necessary.

But protesters in Beirut say it is the lack of respect in general for the Koran that upsets them.

Protester Rashad el-Hajj reads from a copy of the letter addressed to the prime minister, which outlines the party's demands.

"To close the American Embassy in Lebanon and dismiss all the workers in it, especially the ambassador and cut any relations with America because America is the enemy of Islam and of Muslims," he said.

There was no immediate comment by the American Embassy in Beirut, where several protests have taken place over the past few weeks. American Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman is well respected in Lebanon and it is unlikely the Lebanese government will honor the requests of the demonstrators.