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More killed in protests over burning of Koran

Protesters held an effigy of President Obama and a cross during a rally yesterday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. Protesters held an effigy of President Obama and a cross during a rally yesterday in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. (Rahmat Gul/ Associated Press)
By Taimoor Shah
New York Times / April 4, 2011

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Afghan protests over the burning of a Koran in Florida continued yesterday for a third day, with three more people killed here.

That brought to 24 the number of people killed in Afghanistan since Friday, when a mob overran United Nations offices in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, killing seven UN international staff members.

That was followed by two days of disturbances in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, with businesses closed and young men rampaging through the streets, flying Taliban flags, and chanting anti-American slogans. The demonstrations also spread to the eastern city of Jalalabad yesterday.

In Kandahar, the police fired into crowds Saturday, killing nine people and wounding 81, all by gunshots, but were more restrained yesterday, as representatives of the protesters met with government officials in an effort to defuse the violence.

Still, 40 more people were wounded and two more killed in the confrontations between the police and protesters.

Two police officers were killed over the two days here, apparently because some of the protesters were armed and shot back at them.

In addition, protesters set fire to a traffic policeman’s booth, which caused a gas canister inside to explode, killing one person and wounding 14 others.

Tooryalai Wesa, Kandahar’s provincial governor, expressed condolences for those who were killed and also apologized for some police excesses in firing indiscriminately. He announced that four policemen were arrested yesterday for shooting people without justification.

At the request of community leaders, Wesa also released 22 people arrested the day before, keeping only seven who had been caught with weapons.

In Jalalabad, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan, hundreds of people blocked a main highway for three hours, shouting for US troops to leave, burning an effigy of President Obama, and stomping on a drawing of a US flag, the Associated Press reported.

More than 1,000 people set tires ablaze to block another highway in eastern Parwan province for about an hour, said provincial police chief Sher Ahmad Maladani.

There also were demonstrations in Kabul and elsewhere around Afghanistan, but they were mostly peaceful.

Yesterday, the continuing violence prompted the top American commander, General David H. Petraeus, and Mark Sedwill, the NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, to issue a joint statement condemning the Koran burnings.

“In view of the events of recent days, we feel it is important on behalf of ISAF and NATO members in Afghanistan to reiterate our condemnation of any disrespect to the Holy Koran and the Muslim faith,’’ the statement said. “We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Koran,’’ referring to Terry Jones, an evangelical pastor in Gainesville, Fla.

“We also offer condolences to the families of all those injured and killed in violence which occurred in the wake of the burning of the Holy Koran.’’

Petraeus and Sedwill said the Koran burnings were the actions of a few individuals and are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are “in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people.’’

One local religious leader who met with the governor in Kandahar was critical of the government for not interfering with protests against the Koran burning but also condemned the international coalition for night raids and detentions of Afghan civilians.

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