Protests erupt in Afghan over Quran desecration

Protesters firing petrol bombs and slingshots besieged the largest US-run military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday, furious over reports that Nato troops had set fire to copies of the Quran.

The enraged crowd shouted “Death to Americans” and “Death to infidels” as guards at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower, said an AFP photographer who was hit in the neck.

Hundreds of other people protested in the Afghan capital as security forces dispatched reinforcements in a bid to stop the demonstrations from spiralling out of control in the fiercely conservative Islamic country.

US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, apologised and ordered an investigation into a report that troops “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Quran.”

“I offer my sincere apologies for any offence this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan,” he said. Allen’s remarkably candid statement, apparently aimed at damage limitation after similar incidents led to violence and attacks on foreigners, was played repeatedly on Afghan television.

Allegations that Nato troops at Bagram had set fire to copies of the Muslim holy book were first reported by Afghans working at the base, a senior government official said.
Police said more than 2,000 people were demonstrating outside the sprawling US-run Bagram base at one stage.

Sediq Sediqqi, an interior ministry spokesman, said by early afternoon the demonstration was under control and there was no further violence.

Another protest by about 500 people broke out in the Pul-e-charkhi district of Kabul not far from major Nato bases on the Jalalabad road, police spokesman Ashamat Estanakzai said. That was also brought under control and the crowd later dispersed, he said.

Last April, 10 people were killed and dozens of others were injured during days of unrest unleashed by the burning of a Quran by American pastor Terry Jones in Florida.

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