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Protesters drive Koran-burning pastor out of Michigan

By Reuters
Friday, April 29, 2011 22:29 EDT
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DEARBORN, Michigan (Reuters) – A controversial Florida pastor banned last week from protesting at a Detroit-area mosque on Friday cut short a demonstration at a city hall largely drowned out by counter-protesters.

Terry Jones, 59, had vowed to return this week, saying that his ban on demonstrating in front of the landmark Islamic Center of America in heavily muslim Dearborn had violated free speech protections of the Constitution.

“We are here today to speak out on issues that pertain to all American citizens,” Jones said, using a wireless microphone at a podium set up at the top of the city hall steps.

Separate barricaded zones were created for Jones’ protest on the steps of city hall and for counter-protesters across Michigan Avenue, a busy four-lane street. Jones’ 75 supporters were outnumbered by about five-to-one.

Police were a visible presence on both sides of the street and on two rooftops across the street from city hall.

About an hour into his protest, Jones walked down the steps of city hall and approached Michigan Avenue, raising his arms as he continued his speech. About 150 people broke past a barrier and approached Jones and his group.

Some 30 police wearing helmets and protective gear stood shoulder-to-shoulder along the street in front of city hall and the event ended about 15 minutes later.

Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. told reporters afterward that the event was stopped for security reasons.

“They asked him not to step toward the barricade and he did,” O’Reilly said. “Our job is to serve and protect our community and that’s what we did.”

Three people were taken into custody and are expected to face misdemeanor charges, a Dearborn Police sergeant said.

Jones had scheduled three hours for the demonstration, but it ended after about 75 minutes and he was escorted by police to a waiting car. Dearborn Police had also picked Jones up at Detroit Metro Airport on Thursday.

Jones told reporters as he left he would return to Dearborn. He also said he had wanted the counter-protesters to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Counter-demonstrators chanted “Terry Jones go home” and as Jones began speaking the driver of a large truck stopped in traffic on Michigan Avenue sounded its foghorn, setting off a cacophony of car horns that drowned out Jones’ speech.

A largely unknown pastor until he courted publicity last year with threats to burn the Koran at his tiny fundamentalist church in Gainesville, Florida, Jones had said his planned protest last week was aimed at “radical Islam.”

In March, Jones and Wayne Sapp, 42, staged and videotaped a mock “trial” for the Koran and burned a copy of the holy book, a gesture that prompted riots in Afghanistan and widespread condemnation in the U.S. and around the world.

On April 22, Jones and Sapp were jailed briefly after they refused to pay a $1 bond as ordered by District Court Judge Mark Somers. Somers also barred them from the vicinity of the Islamic Center mosque for three years.

Police in Dearborn denied Jones a permit to protest in front of the Islamic Center. He was tried under an obscure Michigan law dating to 1846 requiring people judged to present a risk to public order to post a “peace bond.”

Dearborn’s city hall was one of a handful of “free speech zones” where city officials indicated they would allow Jones to hold events. It is more than four miles from the Islamic Center, the largest mosque in the United States.

He has appealed the court’s ruling and is represented in litigation by attorneys from the Thomas More Law Center, which is “dedicated to the defense and promotion of the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life,” according to its web site.

The conservative law center has also represented Christian missionaries who were arrested in Dearborn last year.

(Additional reporting by Teri Murphy; Writing by David Bailey. Editing by Peter Bohan)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Top News

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