Kabul: Hundreds of Afghans railed against the United States and called for President Barack Obama`s death at a rally in the capital on Monday to denounce an American church`s plans to burn the Islamic holy book on 9/11.
The crowd in Kabul, numbering as many as 500, chanted "Long live Islam" and "Death to America" as they listened to fiery speeches from members of Parliament, provincial council deputies, and Islamic clerics who criticised the US and demanded the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. Some threw rocks when a US military convoy passed, but speakers shouted at them to stop and told police to arrest anyone who disobeyed.
The Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Centre announced plans to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but has been denied a permit to set a bonfire. The church, which made headlines last year after distributing T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil”, has vowed to proceed with the burning.
"We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the President and the entire United States," said Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student who said he joined the protest after hearing neighbourhood gossip about the Quran burning.
The US embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning Dove World Outreach Centre’s plans, saying Washington was "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups”.
Protesters, who gathered in front of western Kabul`s Milad ul-Nabi mosque, raised placards and flags emblazoned with slogans calling for the death of Obama, while police looked on. They also held up a cardboard effigy of Dove World Outreach Centre’s pastor Terry Jones.
Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and demand that it, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad, be treated with the utmost respect. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is considered deeply offensive.
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the US detention centre in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.
Also on Monday, NATO said an American service member was killed in fighting in the country`s turbulent east on Sunday.
No other details were given in accordance with standard procedure. The death was the fifth among US troops in Afghanistan in September, following the deaths of more than 220 American troops over the past three months.
This year is already the bloodiest for American forces in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with at least 321 killed so far.
Violence is increasing with the infusion of 30,000 additional US troops that brings the total number of foreign forces in Afghanistan to more than 140,000. Stepped-up operations ahead of next week`s parliamentary elections and an ongoing campaign to drive the Taliban from its southern strongholds are also boosting the numbers of dead and wounded.
Taliban insurgents on Sunday vowed to attack polling places during the September 18 vote and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham election. The insurgency aims to topple the government in Kabul and drive foreign troops from the country, and has boycotted or tried to sabotage all aspects of the political process.
Taliban threats and intimidation drove down voter turnout in last year`s fraud-marred Presidential Election, especially in rural areas where security is harder to ensure, and many Afghans this time say they won`t vote for fear of attacks.