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* Muslims across northern China are protesting the publication of a book they say offends Islam and are demanding the death penalty for the authors, Western witnesses say.

Officials speaking on condition of anonymity in Beijing and Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan where the publishers are based, say authorities have banned the book and are confiscating and destroying it.

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The book is a children's pictorial named ``Braintwisters,'' by a Taiwanese author, originally published in Taiwan. It has a drawing of a pig next to a praying Muslim with the question: ``What kind of person doesn't eat pork?'' according to the officials.

On Saturday, thousands of Muslims marched through the streets of Lanzhou, capital of Gansu province, to the local television station, say the Westerners, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. They say armed police walked beside the protesters but did not interfere, and the protest ended peacefully.

Other Western travelers say the towns of Guanghe and Linxia just south of Lanzhou, about 750 miles west of Beijing, were bedecked with hundreds of banners across the main streets and with wall posters declaring the book an insult to Islam.

One banner urged the death penalty for the book's authors, with red ``X's'' marked through their names.

Chinese sources say protests also have been held in the Shaanxi provincial capital of Xian, where several thousand Muslims reportedly marched demanding the recall of the book. Other protests were reported in neighboring Ningxia province. No violence was reported in any of the marches.

Similar protests have erupted in the past among Muslims, who often bristle under rule by ethnic Chinese.

The Chinese Communist government has been concerned that the creation of Muslim states on its western border as part of the breakup of the Soviet Union could fan pro-independence sentiment among China's Muslim minority, which numbers about 17 million.

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Muslims do not eat pork, considered unclean, which is why the picture was found offensive.

``The book humiliates Islam,'' says Guo Chenzhen, an official in the Islamic section of the State Religious Affairs Bureau in Beijing.

Local Chinese authorities in Xian told Muslims not to discuss the protests with foreigners and forbade protest posters.

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