Afghan rage peaks despite apologies
An Afghan gestures during a protest near a US military base in Kabul. Despite apologies, thousands of Afghans angrily protest the mistreatment of Quran.At least eight Afghans were shot dead and dozens were wounded yesterday in clashes that flared for a second day in several cities over the burning of copies of the Quran at NATO’s main base in the country.
In Kabul and in provinces to the east, north and south of the capital, furious Afghans took to the streets screaming “Death to America,” “Death to [President Hamid] Karzai,” throwing rocks and setting fire to shops and vehicles as gunshots rang out. In the eastern city of Jalalabad, students set fire to an effigy of U.S. President Barack Obama, and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul went into lockdown.
The American Embassy said its staff were in “lockdown” and travel had been suspended as thousands of people expressed fury over the burning. The U.S. government and the American commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan apologized after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Quran while collecting rubbish at the sprawling Bagram Airbase about an hour’s drive north of Kabul.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, apologized and ordered an investigation into the incident, admitting that religious materials including Qurans “were inadvertently taken to an incineration facility.” He also ordered all troops be trained in the “proper handling of religious materials no later than March 3.”
Apology fails to contain fury
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also apologized, saying he and Allen “disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms” and promising to “take all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again.”
“We apologize to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Allen to cooperate fully with a government investigation into the burning and told him to “make sure that such incidents do not happen again in the future,” a statement said.
However, apologies failed to contain the fury. Thousands of Afghans took to the streets. Six protesters were killed and 13 wounded in Shinwar district of Parwan province north of Kabul, provincial administration spokeswoman Roshna Khalid said, adding the protesters had attacked police with rocks and some were armed.
Police said most injuries were caused by flying stones and sticks hurled by protesters. Demonstrators had charged police lines and nearby military bases at a protest on the edge of Kabul, burning tires and smashing vehicles and building windows. Demonstrators set fire to part of a housing compound used by foreign contract workers. Outrage also spilled over in the Afghan Parliament, where several members shouted “death to America” inside the legislative chamber.
Reports the Quran had been mistreated emerged Feb. 21, but it remains unclear exactly who was responsible. A spokesman for the U.S.-led NATO force in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, said he could not confirm the Qurans had been burnt by Americans at the base, saying it was still under investigation.
Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.