Sudanese Protesters Call for Teacher's Execution

Crowds of Sudanese protesters in Khartoum called Friday for the death of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Muhammad.

Demonstrators — many armed with clubs and knives — called for the execution of Gillian Gibbons, saying, "No tolerance: Execution," and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."

Trucks with loudspeakers prompted the protest, as Muslims left mosques after Friday sermons. Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation by a court in Khartoum on Thursday. She could have been sentenced to 40 lashes.

A Muslim cleric at Khartoum's main Martyrs Mosque denounced Gibbons during one sermon, saying she intentionally insulted Islam.

"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 (is) an arrogant woman who came to our country, cashing her salary in dollars, teaching our children hatred of our Prophet Muhammad," he said.

He did not call for protests, however.

Protesters March to School

The prison where Gibbons is being held is far from Martyrs Square, where hundreds of riot police were deployed. Police did not try to stop the rally, which lasted about an hour.

Several hundred protesters also marched about a mile away to Unity High School, where Gibbons worked. They chanted slogans outside the school, which is closed and under heavy security. Afterward, they marched toward the nearby British Embassy, but they were stopped by security forces two blocks away from the embassy.

The protests arose even though Sudanese security officials had vowed Thursday that the demonstrations would not take place. Some of the protesters carried green banners with the name "Society for Support of the Prophet Muhammad."

Many protesters carried clubs, knives and axes. They did not carry automatic weapons, which some have brandished at government-sanctioned demonstrations in the past. That suggested Friday's rally was not organized by the government.

Britain Works for Gibbons' Release

Meanwhile, British officials tried to secure Gibbons' release through diplomatic channels. Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke with a member of her family to convey his regret, his spokeswoman said.

Most Britons expressed shock at the verdict by the court in Khartoum, but hoped it would not raise tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United Kindgom.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, accused the Sudanese authorities of "gross overreaction."

"This case should have required only simple common sense to resolve. It is unfortunate that the Sudanese authorities were found wanting in this most basic of qualities," he said.

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a political advocacy group, said the prosecution was "abominable and defies common sense."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned the Sudanese ambassador late Thursday to express Britain's disappointment with the verdict. The Foreign Office said Britain would continue diplomatic efforts to achieve a swift resolution to the crisis.

Gibbons was arrested Sunday after another staff member at the school complained that she had allowed her 7-year-old students to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Giving the name of the Muslim prophet to an animal or a toy could be considered insulting.

The case put Sudan's government in an embarrassing position — facing the anger of Britain on one side and potential trouble from powerful Islamic hard-liners on the other. Many saw the 15-day sentence as an attempt to appease both sides.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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