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Florida pastor won't back down on vow to burn Quran

Despite warnings by several high-level American officials that his actions will endanger U.S. troops and American aid workers overseas, the pastor of a Gainesville church who plans to protest Islam with a bonfire of Qurans on Sept. 11 vowed Tuesday to carry on.

The decision left Muslims throughout the U.S., including imams and civic leaders in Gainesville and South Florida, scrambling to reassert their positions on the Quran burning to their congregations and communities, which have become increasingly uneasy with the high-profile plans to desecrate their holy book.

``Don't give these hate mongers the opportunity for this bigotry,'' said Imam Zakaria Badat of Masjid an-Noor mosque in West Kendall, echoing a statement he recently signed with a dozen South Florida imams discouraging a violent response.

Badat said he was disappointed to read of hundreds of Afghans rallying outside a Kabul mosque Monday, burning American flags and an effigy of the pastor of Dove World Outreach Center while chanting ``death to America.''

The rally was the latest of several protests in the Muslim world, including ones in Indonesia and India, against the small Florida church.

``The Muslim world needs to realize, we don't need to react to these demented, hateful people. Just ignore them,'' Badat said.

In an email Tuesday to The Associated Press, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

Muslims consider the Quran -- also spelled Koran -- to be the word of God and insist it be treated with respect, along with any material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed.

Pastor Terry Jones of the nondenominational Dove Center, which has about 50 members, said he understands the government's concerns and left the door open to change his mind, saying he is still praying about his decision, but he did not commit to stopping.

"Instead of possibly blaming us for what could happen, we put the blame where it belongs -- on the people who would do it," he told The Associated Press.

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