Australian soldiers face violent Afghan protest: Military

The protest was prompted by rumours that Oz troops were burning the Quran.

Sydney: Australian soldiers were pelted with rocks and one man was shot and wounded during a violent protest in Afghanistan prompted by rumours that the troops were burning the Quran, the military said on Saturday.

Hundreds of angry Afghans gathered at a NATO base in the Chora region of restive Uruzgan province on Thursday and attempted to break in after the Taliban allegedly spread the false allegation, a defence spokesman said.

"The protest turned violent when they began throwing rocks at coalition forces and one of the locals aimed an AK-47 at an ISAF soldier," the spokesman said in a statement, referring to NATO`s International Security Assistance Force.

The protester aiming the weapon was shot by a soldier, in accordance with the force`s rules of engagement, and carried away by fellow demonstrators, he said, adding that the wounded man`s medical status was unknown.

Australian soldiers were struck by rocks but not injured during the demonstration, which follows protests around the world after a US church threatened to burn copies of the Quran.

The Florida church later cancelled its mass burning of the Islamic holy book to mark the anniversary of the September 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, but not before several people died in protests.

It is not known what triggered the latest protest, but Australian broadcaster ABC reported that troops were conducting a regular burn-off of rubbish at the base at the time.

The Australian military said it was likely that the rumour that Australian soldiers were burning the Quran was started by the Taliban as one means of disrupting the Afghan election on Saturday.

"There is no evidence of Australian or ISAF involvement in any alleged Quran burning incident," the defence spokesman said.

"The Taliban have publicly announced that they intend to disrupt the Afghan Parliamentary Elections, and it is assessed that the Quran burning allegations have been fabricated by the Taliban as part of their plans to disrupt the weekend`s elections."

Some 1,500 Australian troops are based in Afghanistan, mostly training Afghan soldiers in Uruzgan.

Since their 2001 overthrow Taliban rebels have been waging an insurgency which they term a "jihad", or holy war, against the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Bureau Report

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