Muslims in London Protest Rushdie Book; 84 Arrested
Thousands of Muslims on Saturday fought among themselves and clashed with police during a march to demand that Britain change its blasphemy laws to allow them to challenge the novel “The Satanic Verses” in court.
Police said 84 people were arrested and six police officers were injured during the march, which erupted in a scuffle before the Parliament building.
An estimated 20,000 demonstrators waved banners denouncing author Salman Rushdie and shouted slogans such as “Rushdie must die!” as they began their march in Hyde Park.
An effigy of Rushdie hanging from gallows was thrust into the air.
Lawmaker Keith Vaz of the opposition Labor Party called on Rushdie and his publisher, Viking Penguin, to withdraw the novel from circulation in Britain, home to an estimated 850,000 Muslims.
Protesters then marched to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s office at 10 Downing St., where representatives turned in a petition demanding a change in Britain’s blasphemy law.
Britain’s rarely used blasphemy law makes it illegal only to insult the Church of England. Muslims want it extended to reflect Britain’s multi-ethnic society, saying this would give them legal grounds for opposing “The Satanic Verses.”
At their next stop in Parliament Square, thousands of protesters stood under Big Ben and blocked traffic as fighting broke out. Riot police poured into the area to break up the clashes and force protesters onto Westminster Bridge, out of the square.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said 71 people were arrested and marchers only moved on across the bridge after receiving guarantees that protesters detained would be released.
Rushdie, born to a Muslim family in India, is a British citizen and has been in hiding in Britain since Feb. 14, when Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini--calling the novel blasphemous--ordered Muslims to kill him.
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