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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 November 2005, 14:26 GMT
Grave damage angers former bishop
Niaz Petkar with family graves that were knocked over

The former Bishop of Birmingham has strongly condemned vandals who desecrated dozens of Muslim graves.

Anti-Muslim leaflets attributable to "Black Nation" were also scattered at the Handsworth Cemetery on Friday.

Last month, riots involving Asian and black youths took place in nearby Lozells, sparked by a claim that a 14-year-old black girl had been raped.

Dr John Sentamu visited the graves on Saturday. Solicitor General Mike O'Brien later met religious leaders.

The Warwickshire North MP discussed community tensions and praised the leaders for their work in trying to calm the situation.

West Midlands Police drafted 600 officers onto the streets overnight on Friday.

Whenever you desecrate the grave of somebody who has been laid to rest in peace it means you are...blaspheming against God
Dr Sentamu, former Bishop of Birmingham

Dr Sentamu, who became the first black Archbishop in the Church of England when he took up the post of Archbishop of York in October, said: "Whoever did this really is beyond description.

"From my position of faith whenever you desecrate the grave of somebody who has been laid to rest in peace it means you are really violating God and blaspheming against God.

"People who behave like this are just sickening."

He was joined by the chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, Dr Mohammed Naseem, whose son is buried at the cemetery.

"Here there are the dead of all communities living in peace. If you hurt one of them you hurt them all," he said.

Police are carrying out forensic tests and house to house inquiries in connection with the desecration, which was reported to them on Friday morning.

Grave stone
The graves were vandalised during Eid

Between 35 and 45 grave stones were damaged.

Supt Tom Coughlan said there are a few people determined to start up tensions between the two communities.

Community leaders have condemned the act and called for calm over the situation.

The BBC's Phil Mackie, who was at the scene, said the leaflets were roughly photocopied and the messages could refer to the so-far unsubstantiated rumour which led to the riots.

It is not known if Black Nation is a real group or has been made up.

He said that many of the relatives tending the graves were there because of the Muslim festival of Eid.

Birmingham City Council has been working to put the headstones back in place.

Muslim graves destroyed in city
04 Nov 05 |  West Midlands

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