Anger was growing in Muslim countries as the leader of a small Florida church insisted he would not back down on plans to burn copies of the Koran on September 11.
About 200 lawyers and civil society members marched and burned a US flag in the central Pakistani city of Multan, demanding that Washington halt the burning of the Muslim holy book.
“If Koran 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!”
“This is a plan by Zionists to put the entire world into trouble, so it should be foiled,” Tariq Naeemullah, the head of the Joint Civic Front, a coalition of non-governmental organisations in Multan.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has denounced the planned burning and General David Petraeus, the top US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, has said it could lead to attacks on international troops there.
But Pastor Terry Jones told a press conference that he has received encouragement for his protest, with supporters posting copies of the Islamic holy text to his Gainesville church of about 50 followers.
He plans to burn the books in a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
“As of right now, we are not convinced that backing down is the right thing,” said Jones.
The Gainesville fire department has denied Jones a required burn permit, but he said lawyers have told him he has the right to burn the Korans, with or without the city’s permission.
The foreign ministries of Pakistan and the Gulf nation of Bahrain issued some of the first official denunciations in the Muslim world, with Bahrain calling it a “shameful act which is incompatible with the principles of tolerance and coexistence.” Bahrain is home to the US Fifth Fleet.
The president of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has also sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to stop the bonfire.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said images of the Quran in flames could “threaten world peace,” Heru Lelono, a special adviser to the president, told reporters Thursday.
India’s Home Ministry has asked the country’s media to “exercise restraint” in reporting on the planned burning.