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Thousands of Muslims Take Part in Anti-War Demonstrations After Friday Prayers - 2003-03-28

For the second week in a row, thousands of people rallied in Egypt after Friday prayer to voice their opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

Amid cheers of approval the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Sayid Tantawi, delivered a speech at Friday prayer in Cairo condemning the war in Iraq as unjust.

An estimated 15,000 people rallied in old Cairo and outside the Al Azhar mosque carrying signs in English and Arabic reading "stop the killing" and chanting for the redemption of Baghdad. Al Azhar is one of the most respected institutions of Islamic learning in the region.

Elsewhere in the region, police in Jordan beat back about 1,000 demonstrators trying to break into the Israeli embassy in the capital, Amman. In Iran's capital, Tehran, protesters smashed windows at the British Embassy.

Reuters news agency also reported that thousands of anti-war protesters took to the streets in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Other protests were seen in packed streets and squares from Bahrain to Egypt.

Mohammed Sulieyman, secretary general of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, which reportedly facilitated permits for today's rally in Cairo, had this to say about the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

"The case is not Saddam Hussein, the case it is the people, it is a country, it is the freedom of the country, freedom of Iraq," he said. "And it is [a] self-independent country. America and Britain should leave [the] Iraqi people to decide what it would like to do."

Unlike last week's unsanctioned demonstrations, which turned violent, the protests this time went off peacefully amid hundreds of riot police and blockades that stretched for miles from the American Embassy deep into Cairo's city center.

Most Arab governments and people are opposed to the war on Iraq, but their feelings about Iraq's leader are not so clear cut.

"I think all Arabian people don't like Saddam Hussein, but the war is only about Saddam Hussein," said one demonstrator in Egypt. "You can do anything with Saddam Hussein, maybe you can transfer him to another country. But I don't think to kill all the people because of Saddam Hussein. I don't think that."

Chanting "death to America" and denouncing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in Tehran following Friday prayer. It was described as the first major anti-war rally in the country since U.S.-led forces stormed into Iraq last week.