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FACTDROP: US commander calls for calm as Afghan backlash over Koran burning intensifies


US commander calls for calm as Afghan backlash over Koran burning intensifies

Πηγή: New York Post
Feb 24 2012

KABUL -- The head of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan called for calm Friday, as demonstrations over the burning of Korans threatened to escalate.

As protesters took to the streets in Kabul for the fourth day and clerics around the country dedicated their weekly sermons to condemning the act, US commander General John Allen stressed the "only way" to "correct this major error" was for NATO to work together with the Afghan leadership "and ensure that it never happens again."

"I call on everyone throughout the country -- ISAF members and Afghans -- to exercise patience and restraint as we continue to gather the facts surrounding Sunday night's incident," he said in a statement.

Demonstrations against the burning of Islam's holiest book at the Bagram Air Field erupted at five locations in Kabul early Friday, senior police official Mohammad Zahir told AFP, adding, "We have no violence so far."

Protests across Kabul and Afghanistan's provinces have resulted in the deaths of two US troops and at least 10 Afghans so far this week. The demonstrations have targeted US and coalition military bases, Afghan government buildings and other symbols of Western presence.

On Thursday, hours after the Taliban called on Afghans to avenge the Koran burning by killing Western forces, an Afghan soldier opened fire on US troops at a base in the eastern Nangarhar Province.

Two American troops were killed before the Afghan soldier escaped into a crowd of protesters demonstrating outside the base in the province's Khogyani district.

A German Army spokesman said Friday that around 50 German soldiers withdrew early from a base in the northern Afghan city of Taluqan due to the unrest, after about 300 people demonstrated peacefully outside. The German forces had been due to leave the small base by the end of March.

The demonstrations erupted after coalition soldiers brought a truckload of Korans and other Islamic books from a Bagram detention facility to an incinerator at the Bagram Air Field.

Afghan workers at the base said they stopped the soldiers from destroying the books, but not before several copies of the Koran had been partially burned -- an act US President Barack Obama described as "inadvertent" sacrilege.

A joint ISAF and Afghan investigation to try to determine why the soldiers tried to burn Islamic materials continued Friday. According to some US officials, the books were slated for destruction because they contained "extremist literature" and prisoners' "clandestine communications."

Western embassies, aid groups and the US military have imposed strict travel bans on staff and warned foreigners to steer clear of protests, while the US Embassy in Kabul extended travel restrictions to northern Afghanistan.

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