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Jazeera fury over 'U.S. bomb' memo

Al-Jazeera employees protest at the channel's headquarters in Doha.


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(CNN) -- Employees of the Arabic news network Al-Jazeera have been protesting over a recent report by a British tabloid that the U.S. allegedly planned to bomb the network's headquarters in Qatar -- a report vehemently denied by the White House.

Men and women stood outside Al-Jazeera's Doha, Qatar offices on Thursday holding signs in Arabic and in English, one reading "Don't bomb the messenger." Another sign read "Hostage of Truth" over a photo of Sami al-Hajj, an Al-Jazeera cameraman imprisoned at the U.S. military facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Al-Hajj was detained in Afghanistan, and the network has been asking for his release.

Employees staged similar protests at bureaus in Cairo, Beirut, and Ramallah, with banners condemning U.S. President George Bush.

The protests are a reaction to London's Daily Mirror report on Tuesday that offered details of a supposed secret memo that the tabloid said recounted discussions between Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bush about bombing Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar -- a U.S. ally.

The paper reported that Blair talked Bush out of launching the airstrike against the network during an April 16, 2004, meeting at the White House. The White House called the report "outlandish," but Al-Jazeera called on the British government to either confirm or deny the report.

The Arabic-language network has been a frequent target of U.S. criticism and its facilities have been hit by U.S. bombs in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Baghdad strike killed one journalist working for the network. If true, the Mirror report "would cast serious doubts" on U.S. statements that the strikes were accidental, the network said.

The network's employees are demanding investigations into the bombings and an urgent meeting between Blair and the editors-in-chief of major media outlets in London, including Al-Jazeera.

Britain has refused comment on the matter because two men face trial under Britain's Official Secrets Act in connection with release of the memo.

On Wednesday, Britain's attorney general's office warned news organizations not to publish details of the memo to insure the case against the two men proceeds "without prejudice." (Full story)

The Mirror reported that Bush was angered by Al-Jazeera's coverage of the April 2004 uprising in the western Iraqi city of Falluja, where U.S. Marines were dispatched to restore order after four American security guards had been killed and mutilated by insurgents. Blair talked him out of the idea of bombing the network's headquarters, the tabloid reported.

A White House official told CNN: "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response." And a Pentagon official called the Daily Mirror report "absolutely absurd."

Speaking from Doha, Al-Jazeera's Editor-in-Chief Ahmed al-Sheikh Thursday called for an end to what he described as a "campaign against Al-Jazeera."

"If this alleged claim turns out to be true, then this is frightening," al-Sheikh told CNN. "It is time for them (the Bush administration) to re-think their attitude towards us and we are ready to cooperate with them.

"This negative attitude towards us has to stop. You have to believe that if indeed Bush planned to bomb Al-Jazeera, then this is a frightening proposition."

Al-Jazeera's Web site Thursday had a graphic on its main page with images of a bald eagle, a U.S. flag and the Al-Jazeera logo partially covered by a target with a dark background.

CNN Senior Arab Affairs Editor Octavia Nasr contributed to this report.

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