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Thousands protest Koran burning plan in Afghan north

TALOOQAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Thousands of Afghans protested against the United States in the northeast on Friday, the largest demonstration since a small U.S. church said it planned to burn copies of the Koran, an Afghan official said.

Pakistani men protest in Multan in Punjab province September 10, 2010 against plans by Pastor Terry Jones, an obscure U.S. Protestant church leader, to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Jones who said he had cancelled a plan to burn copies of the Koran at his Florida church said later on Thursday he was suspending his decision while he had a "rethink". Jones had initially called off plans to burn Korans after drawing international condemnation and a warning from President Barack Obama that it could provoke al Qaeda suicide bombings. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

After special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, the crowd, estimated by a governor’s spokesman at 10,000, poured into the streets from mosques in Badakhshan province chanting anti-U.S. slogans.

There were no signs of disturbance, the spokesman said.

The pastor of the small church in Florida, Terry Jones, said he had put a plan to burn Korans on hold after the plan drew global condemnation.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed hope he would not proceed.

“The Koran is in the hearts and minds of all ... Muslims but the affront against the holy book is a humiliation to the people,” Karzai told reporters at his palace after prayers.

“We are hopeful that he gives up this affront and should not even think about it.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Jones to urge him to abandon the protest, intended to coincide with the anniversary of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda militants on U.S. targets.

The president of Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, called on the United States to ensure that no burnings took place.

“I continue to urge the government and the people of the United States to ensure the prevention of such an incomprehensible, irrational and immoral act,” Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said in a speech.

Both Muslim and Christian groups in Pakistan, another large mainly Muslim country, also denounced the planned action.

Reporting by Ahmad Elham and Sayed Salahuddin; Additional reporting by Jakarta and Islamabad bureaux, Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski