Nine killed, scores wounded in protests over Koran burning

Nine killed, scores wounded in protests over Koran burning

Nine protesters were killed and scores wounded in Afghanistan on Friday as demonstrations over the burning of Korans by foreign troops spread, despite calls for calm from the president and clerics and an apology from US President Barack Obama, dpa reported.

Afghans took to the streets after weekly Friday prayers in the capital Kabul and at least seven other cities.

This was the fourth consecutive day of demonstrations against the burning of Korans by US forces in a US-run base, which the military coalition said was unintentional.

Friday's death toll brings to 26 the total number of those killed so far, including two US soldiers who were shot dead by a man wearing an Afghan National Police uniform.

During Friday prayers, clerics in Kabul mosques asked the protesters to maintain peace.

"To protest is the right of every Afghan. But you should keep in mind to make the protest peaceful and not vandalize public space or destroy civilian properties," Maulavi Naqibullah told worshippers at the Kandahari mosque in Kabul.

But Naqibullah said the apologies of the coalition forces and the United States were not enough.

"ISAF should bring the perpetrators to the court of Afghanistan and let the Afghan government investigate them," he said.

Haji Sher Gul, a 30-year-old Kabul resident at one of the mosques, said he was angry but would not take to violence.

"I am very angry with what happened. This is (a) very idiotic act by the American soldiers," he said.

"Our mullah said we should be patient in times of turmoil. But this does not change the fact that many Afghans are feeling angry with the international forces here," Gul said.

"The West should have known the important role Islam plays in the lives of normal Afghans. All Afghans are faithful Muslims and an insult to Islam is unacceptable. The Koran is more important than our constitution," he said.

On Friday, seven people were killed in the western province of Herat.

"There were protests in 19 areas in Herat. Most of them were peaceful but there were some areas where it was very violent," said Mahidun Noori, spokesman for the provincial governor.

"Seven protesters were killed in clashes in different areas and around 50 injured. We have arrested at least two dozen protesters, some of them with guns," he said.

Three protesters died when they tried to storm the US consulate in the provincial capital, Herat city, and clashed with Afghan police who were guarding the area, Noori said.

In Kabul, one civilian was killed in the eastern part of the capital.

"Some of the protesters were armed and opened fire at the Afghan anti-riot police force. I saw a civilian among the protesters who was shot dead by (other) armed protesters," Ayoub Salangi, the Kabul police chief, told dpa.

A group of protesters made its way towards the presidential palace shouting, "Death to America," but was dispersed by security forces.

In northern Baghlan province, one Afghan was killed as protesters tried to overrun a Hungarian base.

The incident took place in the provincial capital of Pul-e-Khumri. The protesters were able to get past the barbwire and remove the blast walls before they were dispersed by police, said Zamanuddin Husaini, the deputy police chief of Baghlan province.

In neighbouring Kunduz city, about 1,000 people tried to enter a United Nations building but were stopped by the police. There were no casualties, said Gulam Mohammad Farhad, the deputy police chief.

A team of investigators, set up by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, called the burning an "insulting and shameful act."

It also asked "all our Muslim citizens of Afghanistan to exercise self-restraint and extra vigilance in dealing with the issue."

A statement from the presidential palace late Thursday said: "NATO officials promised to meet the Afghan nation's demand of bringing to justice, through an open trial, those responsible for the incident."

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Friday that a joint investigation with Afghan authorities was looking into the "events surrounding the mishandling of religious materials."

"I call on everyone throughout the country - ISAF members and Afghans - to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts," said John Allen, the commander of the NATO-led forces.

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