Two protesters die and four injured in Afghan protests

TWO protesters died and four were injured as Afghans protested for a third day yesterday against a plan by an American pastor to burn copies of the Islamic holy book, despite his decision to call off the action.

Mohammad Rahim Amin, chief of the Baraki Barak district in eastern Logar province, said the deaths and injuries occurred when Afghan soldiers opened fire on hundreds of protesters who were trying to storm the local government headquarters.

During protests against the Koran burning, Afghans have regularly targeted the pro-Western government.

Terry Jones, pastor of a small Florida church, said on Saturday that “we feel that God is telling us to stop” the Koran burning, which was to coincide with the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The plan to burn the Koran stirred outrage among millions of Muslims and others worldwide.

The protesters in Logar chanted “Death to America” and burned tires, attacked several shops and set election campaign posters on fire, Amin said.

“I can say for sure that this was the work of the enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan who are trying to use any opportunity to disrupt the security situation,” Amin said.

In a country where most people have limited access to newspapers, television and the Internet, many Afghans seemed unaware of Jones’ decision to call off the Koran burning.

Anger will likely grow after three cases of desecration of the Muslim holy book.

Ceremonies were held in the United States on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks by al-Qaida, which led to the toppling of the Taliban by US-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 because the hardline Islamists had harboured Osama bin Laden’s group.

Jones’s opposition to proposals to build an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near the site of the toppled World Trade Centre in New York highlighted a growing debate in the United States about religious tolerance.

Hundreds of people favouring and opposing the cultural centre and mosque gathered in New York for peaceful rallies hours after ceremonies in the city – and in Washington and Pennsylvania – to mark the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Word of the intention to burn the Koran had already triggered outrage across the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama warned it could hurt the United States deeply abroad, endanger US troops in Afghanistan and risk attacks in US and European cities.

In Afghanistan, violence flared again with angry protesters chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Christians” before clashing with security forces in Logar province, south of the capital. The protesters threatened to attack foreign military bases. There are almost 150,000 foreign troops fighting a growing Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since the hardline Islamists were ousted.

“The governor must give us an assurance that the church is not going to burn the Koran, otherwise we will attack foreign troop bases in our thousands,” protester Mohammad Yahya said.

Major Patrick Seiber, a spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan’s east, said ISAF was aware of more protests in Logar yesterday, but put the crowd at about 100, some wielding sticks and throwing stones.

Four demonstrators were wounded in Logar on Saturday, a day after a protester was shot dead when an angry crowd attacked a German-run ISAF base in Faizabad in northeastern Badakhshan province, one of many protests across the country.

While Jones abandoned his plan, there were at least two incidents of abuse of the Koran in Lower Manhattan in New York on Saturday.

Two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Koran in Tennessee.

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