x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Seven killed in Quran burning protests in Afghanistan

Anger over the Quran burnings underscores anti-foreign sentiment in Afghanistan, fuelled by popular belief that foreign troops and aid workers disrespect Afghan culture and Islam.

KABUL // At least seven people died yesterday in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters demonstrating against the burning of Qurans at a Nato military base. The deaths occurred in the capital, Kabul, the eastern city of Jalalabad and in the provinces of Logar and Parwan, the interior ministry said.

The anger over the Quran burnings underscores anti-foreign sentiment in Afghanistan, fuelled by popular belief that foreign troops and aid workers disrespect Afghan culture and Islam.

The US Embassy went into lockdown and staff were confined to their compounds as the violence erupted. In Kabul, thousands of protesters chanting "Death to America" hurled rocks and set fire to trees outside a complex which is home to foreign contractors, police and some coalition military forces.

Nearby, angry demonstrators set a petrol tanker ablaze on a main road outside of the city.

The US has apologised for burning the Qurans, which had been pulled from the shelves of the Parwan Detention Facility, next to the Bagram Air Field, the main US airbase in the country, because, it was claimed, they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.

The commander of US and Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, said the Qurans had been mistakenly given to troops to be burnt at a rubbish dump.

"It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials," Gen Allen said. "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened."

A western official said it appeared the Qurans and other Islamic readings in the library were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.

As yesterday's rally in Kabul turned violent, city police chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi arrived with hundreds of reinforcements who broke up the protest.

"They have the right to demonstrate, but they have to do it in accordance with the law," said Mr Salangi's deputy, Daud Amin.

"It is their right to demonstrate. ... We are also Muslim and we say it was a wrong action from the Islamic point of view."

Several kilometres away, hundreds of protesters were throwing rocks at Camp Phoenix, a US military base, said Kabul provincial police spokesman Ashmatullah Stanekzai.

Shots were also fired in the air at Camp Phoenix.

After the Quran burning was made public on Tuesday, more than 2,000 Afghans protested outside the Bagram base near the capital.

The burning happened late on Monday, when Afghan workers at the base saw soldiers throwing the books in a pit where rubbish is burnt and noticed the Qurans and other religious books.

Health ministry spokesman Ghulam Sakhi Kargar said one person was killed yesterday in protests in Kabul.

Security forces killed one protester during a demonstration in the Shinwar district, according to Adbul Khalil Farangi, the director of the main hospital in the provincial capital Charikar. He said a further 15 people were wounded.

Shinwar district police chief Mohammad Sediq said they were investigating unconfirmed reports that another six may have been killed during a protest by about 1,200 people.

District chief Sayfaullah, who goes by only one name, said village elders had reported the six deaths, but authorities had not been able to confirm them.

Both said some protesters fired on police as they tried to storm the district compound, prompting security forces to respond with gunfire.

A protest in Logar province, near the capital, also turned violent after someone in a group of about 300 demonstrators fired on police.

Police returned fire, killing one protester, said provincial police chief General Ghulam Sakhi Roogh Lawanay.

Two protesters and two police officers were also wounded, he added.

He said the protesters had come from the neighbouring Wardak province, an insurgent hotbed.

Foreign troops are due to pull out of the country in 2014. But already there is a marked decrease in foreign military and aid operations in the country.

After a decade of war, there is widespread resentment in Afghanistan at the failure of foreign troops to bring security and the waste of foreign aid.