Panetta apologises over Afghan Quran row

Protests had erupted in Afghanistan over reports that NATO troops had burned copies of the holy book.

Washington: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta
on Tuesday stepped in to offer an apology to Afghanistan after
protests erupted over reports that copies of the Quran and
other religious material was "improperly disposed" of at the
Bagram airbase.

Protests had erupted in Afghanistan over reports that NATO
troops had burned copies of the holy book along with other
religious material, with protesters assembling around the the
largest US-run military base in Afghanistan today.

"This morning ISAF Commander General John Allen notified
me of the deeply unfortunate incident involving the
inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including the
Koran, at Bagram Airbase," Panetta said in a statement.

"He and I apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of
such conduct in the strongest possible terms," said the US
Defence Secretary, stating categorically that these actions do
not represent the views of the United States military.

"We honour and respect the religious practices of the
Afghan people, without exception," he said.

Earlier, US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen,
too apologised and ordered an investigation into the reports
after angry crowds gathered outside the airbase, north of
Kabul, shouting `Death to Americans`. Protests also erupted in
Kabul.

"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," Allen said.

Panetta said he supports General Allen`s swift and
decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the
Afghan government.

"I will carefully review the final results of the
investigation to ensure that we take all steps necessary and
appropriate so that this never happens again," Panetta said.

PTI

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