Muslim Migrants Riot in Greece Over Defacement of Koran

Police clash with hundreds of protesters outside parliament building in Athens; 14 people hospitalized.

ATHENS, Greece - Dozens of cars were smashed and 14 people were hospitalized with injuries after protests by Muslim immigrants angered at the alleged defacement of a Quran by a Greek policeman ended in a riot.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades at hundreds of protesters outside parliament and elsewhere in the Athens city center. The government said 46protesters were arrested and 75 cars were damaged.

Chanting "God is great!" and waving leather-bound copies of Islam's holy book, about 1,500 Muslim immigrants - mostly young men - marched to Parliament in the center of Athens to express their anger. The clashes occurred after the protest had dwindled to about 300.

Rioters hurled rocks at police and attacked police cordons with sticks and their belts, ignoring pleas for calm in Arabic and Greek from protest organizers. The violence spread as young men overturned cars, set fire to trash bins and attacked several banks.

Seven policemen and seven immigrants were being treated in hospital for injuries, police said.

Onlookers, including tourists in Athens' central square, watched, with some holding up their cell phones to photograph the protesters.

Police said they will investigate the allegation that a police officer tore up the Iraqi immigrant's copy of the Quran while checking his identity papers in Athens on Wednesday.

"Anyone found responsible will be strictly held to account. But this isolated incident cannot justify these acts of violence," said Christos Markoyiannakis, a minister in charge of police.

Police released photographs of the torn Quran but gave no further details.

"We want the officer or officers involved to be prosecuted, and the government to issue an apology," protester Manala Mohammed, a Syrian national who helped organize the rally, told The Associated Press. "We want people to show us respect."

Most Greece's native born population of 10.7 million are baptized into the Christian Orthodox Church.

Waves of illegal immigration over the past few years have led to an influx of Muslims, mostly from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Many live in squalid, overcrowded apartments in run-down parts of central Athens.

In 2008, Greek authorities arrested more than 145,000 migrants entering the country illegally, a 30 percent increase from the previous year and a 54 percent jump from 2006, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.

Greek rights activist Thanassis Kourkoulas, one of the protest organizers, said the marches were intended to show that immigrants have a voice.

"What happened is a great insult to every Muslim, every immigrant and every Greek who respects democracy," he said.