Violent Afghan protests spread over Koran burning

Hundreds of protesters throw stones at police; security forces fire shots in the air.

Written by Agencies | Kabul | Published:February 22, 2012 12:09 pm

Hundreds of Afghans threw stones,shouted “death to America” and torched tyres,pouring onto streets today for a second day of angry protests against NATO troops for burning copies of the holy Koran.

About 500 protesters threw stones at a US military base in Kabul,while in the eastern city of Jalalabad more than 1,000 demonstrators blocked the highway shouting “Death to Americans,Death to Obama”,AFP journalists said.

Afghanistan is a deeply religious country where slights against Islam have frequently provoked violent protests and Afghans were incensed that any Western troops could be so insensitive,10 years after the 2001 US-led invasion.

In Kabul,the crowd attacked anti-riot police,forcing them to retreat,a photographer said. At least one protester was shot,he said,without being able to identify where the shots came from.

Troops guarding the base,Camp Phoenix,fired in the air,he said,while black smoke from burning tyres rose above the demonstration in the Hod Khail neighbourhood.

A second protest erupted in west Kabul,involving about 100 university students,a police spokesman said,adding that riot police were present and the demonstration was under control.

The Jalalabad protest also involved university students,who chanted “We cannot tolerate insult to the sacred religion of Islam” as they prepared to burn an effigy of US President Barack Obama,a reporter said.

The crowd blocked the key highway from the capital Kabul through the eastern provinces to the Pakistani trade port of Turkham.

Yesterday,protests erupted in Kabul and outside the US-run Bagram military base,north of the capital,as word spread that NATO troops had burnt copies of the Koran.

The US commander in Afghanistan,General John Allen,apologised and ordered an investigation into an incident in which troops “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans”.

In an attempt to head off further protests in deeply religious Afghanistan,Allen repeated his apology late yesterday and said that all troops would be trained in the “proper handling of religious materials no later than March 3”.

For the first time,he admitted that Korans had been burnt,saying they were “inadvertently taken to an incineration facility at Bagram airfield”.

“Along with our apology to the Afghans is our certainty and assurance to them that these kinds of incidents,when they do occur,will be corrected in the fastest and most

appropriate manner possible,” said Allen.

“We’ve been shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans for a long time. We’ve been dying alongside the Afghans for a long time because we believe in them; we believe in their country,and we want to have every opportunity to give them a bright future.”

Two US officials,who spoke on condition of anonymity,said the military removed Korans from the US-run prison at Bagram because inmates were suspected of using the holy book to pass messages to each other.

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