Afghans protest over Quran burning again, 10 dead

Demonstrators shouted "Death to US" and "Death to (President Hamid) Karzai”.

Updated: Apr 02, 2011, 21:07 PM IST

Kandahar: Ten people died on Saturday in new protests against a Quran burning in the US, a day after seven UN staff were killed by a mob in the worst attack on the world body in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The fresh protests began from the centre of the main southern city of Kandahar and spread to other locations as police clashed with crowds marching towards the UN offices and provincial administration headquarters, witnesses said.

"Today as result of violent demonstrations in Kandahar city 73 people are wounded and nine people are martyred," the administration said in a statement.

The protesters damaged government and private buildings and torched vehicles, it added.

Police had fired into the air to try to prevent thousands of protesters marching towards the UN offices and provincial headquarters, a report said.

Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, who have fought an insurgency against President Hamid Karzai`s government in Kabul and its Western allies since they were ousted by the US-led invasion.

"Death to America" and "Death to Karzai" chanted the demonstrators. "They have insulted our Quran," shouted one.

A reporter saw two unidentified bodies being removed by demonstrators in Chawk Saheedan, a central location where the protests started.

Smoke was rising from different parts of the city as protesters burned cars and tyres.

Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial administration, said a bus and a girls` school had also been set ablaze.

He said, "Destructive elements have entered the crowds and are trying to turn it violent". Ayoubi added that all the dead and injured were protestors.

The administration said 16 people, seven of them armed, had been arrested.

The protest came a day after seven UN foreign staff -- three Europeans and four Nepalese guards -- were killed during similar demonstrations in the normally relatively calm northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

US President Barack Obama condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms", while UN chief Ban Ki-moon said it was "an outrageous and cowardly attack".

The UN did not announce the nationalities of the three civilian staff killed. But Sweden named one as 33-year-old Swede, Joakim Dungel. Norway said Lieutenant Colonel Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot, was killed. Diplomats said the third was a Romanian.

The attackers broke away from a large demonstration in the city against the burning of a Quran, Islam`s holy book, at an evangelical church in Florida.

"Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building" and set it on fire, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council at UN headquarters in New York.

"The security guards, who were the Gurkhas, tried their best but the number was so high that they were not able to prevent it."

He denied reports that two of the dead were beheaded but said one victim had his throat cut.

UN officials said the Gurkhas, security mainstays in many world trouble spots, were believed to have killed a number of assailants before they were overcome.

Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor said five other people, thought to be protesters, were also killed while at least 20 people were wounded in the fighting. About 20 people were arrested, he said.

Hundreds of people had taken to the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif to protest against last month`s Quran burning, and local police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said Taliban militants had infiltrated the demonstrators.

Ban`s chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and a top peacekeeping official had left for Afghanistan to conduct a review of security at UN facilities, Le Roy said.

The 15-nation UN Security Council held a special meeting on the incident, calling on the Afghan government to step up protection for UN workers.

Friday`s attack was the worst suffered by the world body since a bomb blast at the UN compound in Algiers in 2007 in which 17 staff died.

In the last major attack on the UN in Afghanistan, five of its foreign staff were killed when three gunmen wearing explosives-packed vests attacked a Kabul guesthouse in October 2009.

In 2003 an attack on the UN`s office in Baghdad killed 22 staffers, including top envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Before Friday`s violence Afghanistan had condemned the "disrespectful and abhorrent" burning of the Quran at the Dove World Outreach Centre, an evangelical church in Gainesville, Florida, calling it an effort to incite tension between religions.

Church head Pastor Terry Jones said that "we don`t feel responsible" for the attack, adding: "The radical element of Islam takes (the burning) as an excuse to promote their violent activities."

Bureau Report