Three killed in new Koran protests

Afghan police have shot and killed three protesters in two separate incidents as riots broke out during demonstrations over this week’s Koran burning incident.

Police said one protester was fatally shot and four people were wounded, including two police officers, when security forces and some protesters exchanged gunfire during a riot outside the police headquarters in the northern province of Baghlan.

Another two protesters were killed and six were wounded in an exchange of gunfire during a protest in southern Uruzgan province.

Afghan police also fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds of protesters who tried to break into an American military base in the country’s east.

The fresh violence came one day after clashes between Afghan troops and protesters broke out in the capital and in three eastern provinces over the incident, leaving at least seven people dead and dozens wounded.

The US has apologised for the Koran burnings, which took place at a military base near Kabul, and said it was a mistake.

In the eastern Laghman province, protesters hurled rocks and tried to remove the razor wire around the American base in Mehterlam, the provincial capital.

The demonstrators failed to push through and get inside the walls of the facility, which also houses a US-run provincial reconstruction team – a mix of military and international civilians who work to improve local governance, services and infrastructure.

The Laghman reconstruction team is made up of US Army and Air Force service members, and staff from the State Department and the US Agency for International Development.

“Hundreds of our people in Laghman province gathered because of the burning of the holy book by the Americans,” said protester Mohammad Issa.

“Everyone is so emotional. The burning of the Koran broke our hearts and we are attacking the PRT because they are American,” he said.

President Hamid Karzai said he shared the Afghan people’s pain at hearing of the Koran desecration, but asked them to stay calm until an investigation is completed.

The violence was also a reminder of how easily Afghan-US relations can deteriorate as the two countries work to forge a long-term partnership ahead of the withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014.

The unrest started on Tuesday when Afghan workers at the main American military base, Bagram Air Field, saw soldiers dumping books in a pit where garbage is burned and noticed Korans and other religious material among the rubbish.

The top US and Nato commander, General John Allen, quickly issued an apology and telephoned Mr Karzai to explain that a collection of religious materials, including Korans, had been mistakenly sent to be incinerated. As soon as someone realised what they were burning, they stopped and retrieved what was left, Gen Allen said.

Four copies of the Koran were burned before the incineration was halted, according to initial Afghan government reports.

Nato and Afghan investigators have visited the Parwan detention facility, from where the Korans had originated.

US officials said they had been taken from the shelves of the facility’s library because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions. The White House said it was an accident that they were sent to be burned.

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