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Peter MacKay decries Koran-burning pastor's 'dangerous act of provocation'

Rev. Terry Jones walks back to his church Friday after speaking to reporters in Gainesville, Fla.

PAUL J. RICHARDS/Paul J. Richards

A U.S. preacher's vow to burn a stack of Korans to mark the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will put an even bigger target on the backs of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay warned Wednesday.

"It's a dangerous act of provocation that the Taliban will use to incite more hate and violence against soldiers in Afghanistan," Mr. MacKay told the Globe and Mail.

The Defence Minister had issued a short statement Tuesday, calling the act "insulting." He went further with his remarks in a short interview Wednesday. "Common sense tells us this will only cause harm and hurt in all directions," he said.

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In adding his voice to the controversy, Mr. MacKay joins a host of others, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and General David Petraeus, the American commander in Afghanistan.

In his statement Tuesday, Mr. MacKay called on the Christian minister, Terry Jones, to "bring people together, not break them apart."

"This initiative is insulting to Muslims and Canadians of all faiths who understand that freedom of thought and freedom of religion are fundamental to our way of living," he said.

Separately, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty indicated Tuesday that the costs of redeploying Canada's troops from Afghanistan will be high. According to The Canadian Press, Mr. Flaherty told a crowd in Belleville, Ont., that the government will slow the growth of defence spending over the next few years.

Flaherty spokesman Chisholm Pothier said the government is now in the process of determining the exact costs of bringing the troops and equipment home.

"It's the biggest military redeployment in 50 years," Mr. Pothier said, noting it involves returning tanks, planes, trucks, tents and people.

The combat mission is to end next July and combat troops are to be out of Afghanistan by the end of next year.

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