Lhokseumawe, Indonesia– Religious and political leaders across the Muslim world welcomed a decision by a small American church to suspend its plans to torch copies of their holy book — but some said Friday the damage has already been done.
The Rev. Terry Jones from the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida triggered international outrage when he announced he would burn the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with hundreds of angry protesters in Afghanistan and Pakistan burning US flags and chanting "Death to the Christians."
His decision to hold off, made overnight when many in Asia were sleeping, was met with relief.
"Quran burning plan aborted! Sanity prevails," Malaysia opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim told followers on the social networking site, Twitter. "Praise be to Allah. Our challenge: promote peace and justice."
But cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers attending Friday morning prayers in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, that Jones had already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."
"If he'd gone through with it, it would have been tantamount to war," the Indonesian cleric said in the coastal town of Lhokseumawe. "A war that would have rallied Muslims all over the world."
In Afghanistan, local officials estimated up to 4,000 people took part in Thursday's demonstration in Mahmud Raqi, capital of Kapisa province. NATO spokesman James Judge said there were 500 to 700 protesters.
A cleric in Balkh province said if the burning wend ahead a protest would be held Monday in the provincial capital, Mazar-i-Sharif. NATO-led troops are stationed in the city.
In the central Pakistani city of Multan, about 200 people marched and burned a US flag.
"If Quran is burned it would be beginning of destruction of America," read one English-language banner held up by the protesters, who chanted "Down with America!"