Thousands of Sudanese, many carrying knives and sticks, took to the streets in protest in Khartoum today calling for the execution of British school teacher Gillian Gibbons, jailed over a teddy bear.
Crowds demonstrated outside the presidential palace, saying the 15-day prison sentence imposed on Mrs Gibbons for allowing her class to call a teddy bear Mohammed was too lenient.
The protesters streamed out of mosques after sermons today, as pick-up trucks with loudspeakers blared messages against Mrs Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool.
Hundreds of riot police were deployed as demonstrators massed in central Martyrs Square, outside the palace.
“Shame, shame on the UK,” protesters chanted, and they called for Mrs Gibbons’ execution, saying: “No tolerance: Execution,” and “Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”
The women’s prison where Gibbons is being held is far from the site, as is the Unity High School where she taught, which is under heavy security protection.
The protest flared despite vows by Sudanese security officials yesterday, during Mrs Gibbons' trial, that threatened demonstrations after today's prayers would not take place.
Some of the protesters carried green banners with the name of the Society for Support of the Prophet Muhammad, a previously unknown group.
Some of the protesters, who one reporter at the scene said numbered as many as 10,000, carried clubs, knives and axes – but not automatic weapons, which some have carried at past government-condoned demonstrations, suggesting the rally was not organised by the government.
During the sermons, the Muslim cleric at Khartoum’s main Martyrs Mosque denounced Gibbons, saying she intentionally insulted Islam - but he did not call for protests.
“Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion,” the cleric, Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, a well-known hard-liner, told worshippers.
“This an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad.”