Quran burning: 24 killed in anti-US protests

The protests flared after Friday prayers, where mullahs condemned "Infidels" for the desecration of Islam`s holy book.

Kabul: Anti-US protesters tried to storm a
US consulate and march on NATO headquarters in Kabul on Friday as
violent demonstrations over the burning of Qurans pushed into
a fourth day, killing 24 people.

Afghan officials said nine people died Friday, seven
of them in the relatively peaceful western province of Herat,
where the assault was made on the consulate in the capital.

The Quran burning has inflamed anti-Western sentiment
already smouldering over abuses by US-led foreign troops, such
as the release last month of a video showing US Marines
urinating on the corpses of dead Afghans.

President Hamid Karzai`s government and the US-led
NATO mission in Afghanistan had appealed for calm and
restraint, fearful that Taliban insurgents are trying to
exploit the anti-American backlash.

But in Herat city, three people died as protesters
surged towards the US consulate while four more were killed
elsewhere in the province, provincial spokesman Moheedin Noori

"Seven people were killed and 50 others were injured
-- mostly in gunfire -- across Herat province," said Noori.
Another protester was shot dead and two were wounded
when demonstrators tried to overrun the Czech-led
military-civilian provincial reconstruction team in
northeastern Baghlan province, provincial governor Abdul
Majeed said.

Friday`s deaths bring to at least 24 the number of
people killed since Tuesday at violent anti-US protests over
the burning of Korans at the US airbase of Bagram, north of
the capital. In Kabul, photographers saw two bodies at one
of multiple protest sites, but an interior ministry spokesman
said only that three people were wounded.

The protests flared after Friday prayers, where
mullahs condemned "Infidels" for the desecration of Islam`s
holy book.

"Those who have committed this crime should be
identified and should be publicly executed," said mullah
Mohammad Ayaz Niazi at Kabul`s Wazir Akbar Khan mosque.

"You have not just betrayed a nation, but you have
played with the faith and sentiments of 1.7 billion Muslims
worldwide, and you have trampled their holy book," he said,
while urging that any protests should be peaceful.

Rallies also broke out in northern Kunduz province, as
well in central Bamiyan and Ghazni and eastern Nangarhar,
where one person died, correspondents said.

Two US soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan soldier at
a protest on Thursday. French, Norwegian and US military bases
also came under attack, after insurgents exhorted their
countrymen to kill foreign troops in revenge.

The US embassy in Kabul has been in lockdown for days,
while extra security forces are protecting foreign missions
and other strategic places, some armed with rocket-propelled
grenades and heavy machine-guns.

Last April, 10 people were killed and a UN compound in
the north was overrun during days of unrest unleashed by the
burning of a Koran by American pastor Terry Jones in Florida.
The Afghan government and the US commander of the NATO
mission in Afghanistan, General John Allen, called for calm
and restraint in a country wracked by 10 years of war against
hardline Islamist insurgents.

"Working together with the Afghan leadership is the
only way for us to correct this major error and ensure that it
never happens again," said Allen.

Government investigators urged Afghans to "avoid
resorting to protests and demonstrations that may provide
ground for the enemy to take advantage of the situation".