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Shi'ite Muslims rally against US

BEIRUT -- Thousands of Shi'ite Muslims demonstrated in Beirut yesterday to warn the United States against attacking holy sites in Iraq. Smaller groups rallied in other Mideast nations, with protesters in Bahrain clashing with police.

Wearing white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die in defense of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, demonstrators marched through Beirut's suburbs. Many chanted "Death to America. Death to Israel."

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah accused US forces of desecrating holy shrines in Iraq, and called on Muslims to fight to the death for the two Iraqi cities. Hezbollah fought an 18-year guerrilla war that led to Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

"Let the Americans understand that those who wore shrouds today -- including clerics, men, women, children, and adults -- did not come to show off," Nasrallah said. "We will not abandon our religious duty. Today's march is a step on the road to defending the holy sites." Tens of thousands attended the protest, according to unofficial estimates.

Shi'ite Muslim communities in Lebanon, Iran, and Bahrain have been outraged by the continued fighting in Karbala and Najaf, home to shrines that are among the most sacred in Shia Islam.

In Manama, Bahrain, police fired tear gas to disperse about 5,000 demonstrators, but the crowd broke through the police blockade, turning over an empty police car and setting it ablaze. The nearly 2-mile march had been approved by security authorities.

Bahrain's king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, fired his interior minister, saying the march should have been allowed to continue.

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