KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – Clad in the green of Islam and his hair in dreadlocks, the angry young protester raised the sword over his head and proclaimed that the West should know the Prophet Muhammad cannot be insulted.

Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher, should be executed for allowing her students to bestow the name Muhammad on a class teddy bear, he said.

“What she did requires her life be taken,” Yassin Mubarak said, standing in a crowd of several thousand Sudanese protesting in central Khartoum on Friday against the teacher.

Banners demanded “Punishment, Punishment, Punishment,” as protesters chanted, “Kill her! Kill her by firing squad!”

Gibbons, who was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation, was taken from her prison to a secret location to ensure her safety, said her defense lawyer after he visited her there. She also spoke to her son and daughter back home, telling him Britons should not resent Muslims over her case.

Still, the anger over a teddy bear mystified many in the West.

The answer may lie in the ideology that President Omar al-Bashir’s Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan: a mix of anti-colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.

While the government does not want to seriously damage ties with Britain, the show of anger underlines its stance that Sudanese oppose Western interference, lawyers and political foes said. The uproar comes as the U.N. is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the war-torn Darfur region.

“You take an event like this teacher incident, enlarge it and make a bomb out of it,” Gibbons’ chief lawyer, Kamal al-Gizouli, told The Associated Press. The aim is to show that “Muslims in Sudan don’t want these people (Westerners) to interfere, we want African troops.”

With the strong religious feeling fueled by the government, “if you tell the people that someone has done such and such, they get angry … without (finding out) what exactly happened, the facts, the reality,” al-Gizouli said.

There was no overt sign that Friday’s protest was organized by the government, though it could not have taken place without official consent.

In their mosque sermons Friday, several Muslim clerics told worshippers that Gibbons had intentionally insulted the prophet, but they did not call for protests and said the punishment ordered by the court was sufficient.

The protest was far smaller than rallies by tens of thousands of Sudanese that were held with government backing in February 2006 after European newspapers ran caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting popular anger against Gibbons did not run as deep.

Several thousand people converged on Khartoum’s Martyrs Square, near the presidential palace, and began calling for Gibbons’ execution. Many seemed to be from Sufi groups, religious sects that emphasize reverence for the prophet.

Some angrily denounced the teacher, but others smiled as they beat drums and burned newspapers with Gibbons’ picture, waving swords and clubs and green banners, the color of Islam.

Chants of “Kill her!” and “No tolerance: Execution!” rang out as hundreds of police in riot gear stood by, keeping the crowd contained but not moving against the rally.

Protesters dismissed Gibbons’ claims that she didn’t mean to insult the prophet.

“It is a premeditated action, and this unbeliever thinks that she can fool us?” said Yassin Mubarak, a young dreadlocked man swathed in green and carrying a sword. “What she did requires her life to be taken.”

Several hundred protesters marched to Unity High School, where Gibbons worked, and chanted outside briefly before heading toward the nearby British Embassy. They were stopped by security forces two blocks from the embassy. The protest dispersed after an hour.

“I would like to tell the whole world that what happened here from this English teacher is not acceptable to us,” said a protester, Sheikh Nasser Abu Shamah.

Gibbons was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation for insulting Islam with the naming of the teddy bear, which was part of a class project for her 7-year-old students at the private school.

She escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Her time in jail since her arrest Sunday counts toward the sentence.

The conviction shocked Britons, and the British government said it was working with Sudan’s regime to win her release. Muslim groups in Britain and the United States denounced the ruling, saying Gibbons should not have been tried.

During her trial, a weeping Gibbons said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Muhammad is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic law rules against insulting the prophet, the faith’s most beloved figure.

Mariam al-Mahdi, a leader of Sudan’s main opposition Umma party, said the government had deliberately escalated the case. “There has been a strong official mobilization in the media and mosques against the so-called imperialists and the crusaders,” she said.

By prosecuting Gibbons, the government may have wanted to raise public anger to underline its resistance to including Western peacekeepers among the U.N.-African Union force that is to deploy in Darfur, al-Gizouli said.

Al-Bashir said in early November he would not allow Scandinavian countries to join the peacekeeping force because newspapers there published cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad. Al-Bashir had long resisted any U.N. peacekeepers, denouncing them as colonialists and vowing to lead a holy war against them, until he consented to the joint force earlier this year.

On Tuesday, the U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Marie Guehenno said Khartoum was still throwing up obstacles to the deployment of the 26,000-strong force.

Al-Bashir came to power in a 1989 military coup, supported by fundamentalists rooted in the Muslim Brotherhood. His ruling party, dominated by Islamic hard-liners, controls the levers of power in the north, where Islamic Sharia law is in place.



Associated Press writers Paul Schemm and Lee Keath in Cairo contributed to this report.

AP-ES-11-30-07 1730EST


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