KHARTOUM, Sudan Thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of a British teacher Friday and demanded her execution for insulting Islam by letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammad.
Sudan's Islamic government, which has long whipped up anti-Western, Muslim hard-line sentiment at home, was balancing between fueling outrage over the case of Gillian Gibbons and containing it.
The government does not want to seriously damage ties with Britain, but the show of anger underlines its stance that Sudanese oppose Western interference, lawyers and political foes said. The uproar comes as the United Nations is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the war-torn Darfur region.
Many in the protesting crowd shouted "Kill her! Kill her by firing squad!"
In response to the rally in central Khartoum, Gibbons was moved from the women's prison across the Nile in Oumdurman to a secret location, her chief lawyer Kamal al-Gizouli told the Associated Press. He said he visited her there to discuss her conviction Thursday on charges of insulting Islam.
The 54-year-old Gibbons, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail, spoke Friday with her son John and daughter Jessica in Britain by telephone.
"One of the things my mum said today was that I don't want any resentment towards Muslims," the son told AP. "She's holding up quite well."
Despite the fervor of the protest, the rest of Khartoum was quiet. The rally was far smaller than February 2006 protests held with government backing after European newspapers ran caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting popular anger over Gibbons did not run as deep.
In their mosque sermons Friday, several Muslim clerics harshly denounced Gibbons, saying she had intentionally insulted the prophet, but they not call for protests and said the punishment ordered by the court was sufficient.
Still, after prayers, 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.
There was no overt sign that the government organized the protest, but such a public rally could not have taken place without at least official assent.
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.
Many in the West were mystified by the anger over a teddy bear.
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 rules against insulting the prophet.
But the case was caught up 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.
"The escalation is deliberate," said Mariam al-Mahdi, a leader of the main opposition Umma party. "There has been a strong official mobilization in the media and mosques against the so-called imperialists and the crusaders."
She pointed to nationalistic songs often played on state media, including one that proclaims, "For you America, we were trained and for you prophet, we were armed."
Gibbons' defense lawyer, al-Gizouli, said that given the strong religious feeling in Sudan, "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."
By prosecuting Gibbons, the government may have wanted to raise public anger to bolster its resistance to including Western peacekeepers in the United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force that is supposed to deploy in Darfur, al-Gizouli said.
"You take an event like this teacher incident, enlarge it and make a bomb out of it," he told AP. The aim is to show "Muslims in Sudan don't want these people (Westerners) to interfere, we want African troops."
Al-Bashir said in early November that he would not allow Scandinavian countries to join the peacekeeping force because newspapers there published the cartoons that insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
But he long resisted any U.N. peacekeepers, denouncing them as colonialists and vowing to lead a holy war against them, until he consented under growing international pressure to allow the joint force earlier this year.
On Tuesday, the U.N. peacekeeping chief, Jean-Marie Guehenno, said the Khartoum regime 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.