Part of UCI closed after Koran-burning pastor announces visit

IRVINE — UC Irvine remained peaceful Thursday afternoon, despite the flames of controversy that erupted about a Koran-burning Christian pastor's planned visit.

Students gathered in front of Langson Library, some sitting on blankets, facing the area covered in caution tape where the Rev. Terry Jones intended to speak.

However, Jones was told not to come on campus after UCI police received intelligence informing them of suspicious activity associated with the visit that aroused safety concerns.

The Florida pastor is known for threatening to burn the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 and eventually did so in March, sparking an international reaction that included protests in Afghanistan, where they burned effigies of the pastor in the streets.

Out of concern for his potential visit, UCI closed down portions of its campus surrounding Anteater Plaza and evacuated Aldrich Hall, which houses university administration.

Jones had applied for a permit to speak at the flagpoles area, but was denied due to another organization scheduled for the 11:30 a.m. time slot.

The school upholds free speech and did not deny him speaking, UCI spokesman Tom Vasich pointed out, but he was not given the permit required to use that venue. The permit also allows amplified sound.

Soraya Azzawi, a third-year student, stood near the taped-off portion of Ring Road, with police officers only a few feet away.

"I'd say the security concerns are definitely valid if he's incited violence and used hate speech before," she said.

Students such as Azzawi chatted about whether Jones would be arrested if he came to campus.

Vasich said an arrest would be an "option" if he were to step foot on UCI's grounds.

Ilgiz Khismaov, a Muslim UCI graduate, came on campus to check out how students were responding. He said he was pleasantly surprised to see that many students rejected the pastor's intolerant message.

"He came here to stir hatred and raise tension," he said. "The awesome thing is that Jewish and Muslim students have come together against it."

Lee Weissman, 51, lives in Irvine and said he wanted to come when he heard a rabbi was accompanying Jones.

"I wanted to make the point that he doesn't speak for me," said Weissman, who is Jewish.

On other parts of campus, students were hurriedly walking to class between breaks or tapping away at laptops outside the student center, seemingly unshaken by the event.

Chris Nguyen, a freshman, said he didn't know about Jones' visit until his discussion leader brought it up in his Asian-American studies discussion.

Nguyen said he believes it's important that everyone has the right to speak their mind, but he didn't agree with the way Jones demonstrates his views. He said his discussion leader had used the event as an example of how prejudice still exists.

As of Thursday afternoon, Anteater Plaza, Ring Road, the flagpoles and Pereira Drive were closed to pedestrian and vehicular traffic until further notice.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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