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Arab World in Turmoil

With the streets of Arab cities again filled with anti-war protesters, fears are growing that the protests could push the entire region into crisis.

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Anti-war protests are raging across the Middle East.

With the rise of Middle Eastern satellite news channels like al-Jazeera and al-Arabia, many Arab countries now have access to far more information than their own, often heavily censored national media have supplied.

Both broadcasters have played a leading role in international coverage of the second Gulf War. On Saturday, al-Jazeera viewers faced images of mutilated corpses and injured children in Iraq. The satellite broadcaster even aired footage a decapitated child and a dead Iraqi soldier laying next to a white flag in a trench. Al-Jazeera also broadcast pictures of dozens of corpses in the Kurdish dominated northern Iraq. The dead were allegedly fighters from the Islamic extremist group Ansar el Islam, who had been killed by American soldiers.

"Did you see all those bombs falling on TV? All the poor people? And for what? America wants to subjugate the entire region for the sake of Israel. They want to bring the Arabs to their knees," a 50-year-old Egyptian housewife told Reuters.

Ironically, the new diversity of media is adding to the fury in the Middle East over U.S.-led military strikes against Iraq, with viewers being faced each day with a barrage of macabre images from the war that are often conspicuously absent from western coverage. Thousands have taken to the streets in massive and often-violent protests against the U.S. war on Iraq.

Mass protests

Proteste im Libanon

Police block protesters from reaching the Kuwaiti embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.

In countries from Morocco to Oman, Arab populations have not only been expressing their anger at the United States and its closest ally, Britain, but also widespread dissatisfaction with their own political leaders. Many believe that Arab heads of state and the Arab League did not do enough to prevent a war.

Analysts are divided on whether the sometimes violent protests could destabilize an already unstable region. But most believe that the tough security forces in the Arab states will manage to keep the popular fury in check.

In the Egyptian capital, the region's largest city with some 17 million inhabitants, 20,000 people took to the streets on Saturday calling for an end to the U.S. and British-led fighting. Students from Cairo's Al-Azhar Islamic University burned the American, British and Israeli flags. "Oh Arab army, where are you?" they chanted, calling on Arab nations to send military support to Iraq. Riot police were out in force.

Palestinians call for boycott of U.S.

Thousands of Palestinians in camps in Lebanon called on Arabs to boycott American products. "We're defending the people of Iraq with our blood," they shouted in protests.

Demonstration in Palästina gegen Irak Krieg

Palestinan boys hold Arab countries' flags as they cover their mouths with U.S. flag stickers during a pro-Iraq demonstration at the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza strip.

In Gaza, too, some 10,000 Palestinians marched through the streets holding pictures of the Iraqi president. "We are with you and the people of Iraq," they chanted.

On Friday anti-war protests deteriorated into violent clashes with police after the evening prayers. In many cities, Muslim clerics fired up their congregations with sermons denouncing the war.

Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the grand sheik of the historic Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, called for jihad -- holy war -- to support Iraqis. "Jihad in Islam in meant to defend... those subject to injustice," he said. "We have to support and defend the people of Iraq."

"With all our heart and soul, we sacrifice ourselves to Islam," protesters chanted. Police beat back the 10,000 demonstrators with truncheons and water cannons.

In a rare statement, Egypt's Interior Ministry appealed to citizens to express themselves in an orderly manner by participating only in previously authorized demonstrations.

Clashes kill two

In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, riot police in armored cars tried to prevent 30,000 protesters from marching on the U.S. embassy on Friday. They used water cannons, tear gas and, finally, live ammunition. An 11-year-old boy and at least one other protester were killed in the altercations. Reports that a third protester and a policemen had also been slain have not been confirmed. At least nine marchers and 14 policemen were injured.

Saddam Hussein targeted, too

In addition to protesting against the U.S., many also expressed their contempt for Iraqi President Saddam.

In Beirut, Lebanon, Grand Ayatollah Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah denounced both the United States and Saddam Hussein in his Friday sermon. "We call on the Iraqi people to topple the tyrant who has destroyed Iraq and thrown the Arab and Islamic world into disarray, Fadlallah, a Shiite, said.

The cleric added that he rejected "Iraq's occupation by the arrogant powers, particularly America."

In Amman, Jordan, Hamza Mansour, a cleric leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, urged 4,000 Palestinian listeners to fight back with car bombs and martyr themselves. Police removed two imams from a mosque, worshippers reported. They were said to have delivered fiery sermons.

The Jordanian authorities were met with angry demonstrators when they sealed off parts of the capital to prevent Islamist organized pro-Iraq protests. Numerous people were injured and several arrested in street fights in the Wihdat neighborhood, an area where mainly Palestinian refugees live.

Iraqi flags selling like hotcakes

In another sign of how deeply entrenched anti-American sentiment has become in the Palestinian-controlled territories, one shop owner told the news agency Agence France Presse that he was selling as many as 200 Iraqi flags a day to customers. Flags of the countries that have taken a stance against the war -- Germany, France, Russia, China and more -- he said, are also flying off the shelves.

Compiled with material from wire reports

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