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Several killed in clashes with Kabul cops over Koran burning (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Published time: February 22, 2012 08:39
Edited time: February 22, 2012 18:13

Afghan men stand near a pile of wood and tyres, set on fire by the protesters, during a protest outside the U.S. military base in Bagram, north of Kabul February 21, 2012 (Reuters / Mohammad Ismail)

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Seven people have been killed and dozens wounded by gunshots fired on anti-American demonstrations in Afghanistan, says the country's Interior Ministry. The American embassy in Kabul is blocked by protesters.

Up to 30 people were wounded by gunfire during protests over burnt copies of the Koran. Shooting episodes broke out at two locations, with at least four spontaneous demonstrations throughout Afghanistan.

In northern Parwan province two people were shot dead by police after protesters violently attacked the provincial district center.

Reuters reports that in one case shooting came from a foreign military vehicle parked outside the US military base. In another case police reportedly fired on violent protesters, who were smashing cars and charging the police line.

The head of Kabul police‘s crimes unit said 11 police officers were wounded, including the city police chief, who was hit by a stone.

The crowd has torched a part of a guesthouse at the Green Village complex, reports a Reuters' witness. This zone is a safe haven where 1,500 people, mostly foreign contractors, live and work.

Kabul provincial police reported that hundreds of protesters are gathering on Wednesday outside the Camp Phoenix base on the main highway linking Kabul with the eastern city of Jalalabad, closing the main trade route.

Protesters are shouting “Death to…” slogans, mentioning Bush, Obama, Karzai and America.

US embassy Security Announcement

US embassy in Kabul is locked down; the staff suspended all travels because of the protests.

"The embassy is on lockdown; all travel suspended. Please, everyone, be safe out there," says the embassy's official Twitter feed.

The embassy has issued a security announcement, urging American citizens residing in Afghanistan “to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations, spontaneous or planned.”

Also, Americans should avoid being predictable in their movements.

If you are an American in Afghanistan, they warn, you should not discuss your plans publicly or with strangers. The areas where Westerners usually congregate should be avoided at times of unrest. Having “appropriate communication equipment” is a must.

The protests have flared in Kabul and other cities in Afghanistan for the second day. Hundreds are participating in the protests. Demonstrators are burning tires in the Hod Khail neighborhood, through which goes Kabul’s most important Jalalabad Road. This district lies close to several American military bases.

On Tuesday they blocked city’s major artery, causing traffic jams, so that authorities had to bring in riot police and water cannon to clean the Jalalabad road.

The protests began after a Koran-burning scandal emerged, exposing incineration of about 30 copies of the Koran, among other religious books, at a detention center at Bagram Air Base.

­America apologizes

The US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said on Wednesday that he will ensure that all necessary and appropriate steps are taken “so that this never happens again.

“ISAF Commander General John Allen…and I apologize to the Afghan people,” Panetta has said.

The Secretary of Defense expressed support to General John Allen's “swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government”.

A day earlier, General John Allen himself apologized twice for the incineration of the Koran. He admitted that Korans had been burnt, saying they were "inadvertently taken to an incineration facility at Bagram Airfield.”

The books were retrieved from the shelves of the library of a detention center adjoining Bagram Air Base because they were being used to pass by extremist messages among the inmates.

General John Allen ordered an investigation into the incident of American troops burning various Islamic religious materials – together with copies of the Koran. He also promised to train personnel in the “proper handling of religious materials no later than March 3.”

General Allen assured that whenever such incidents happen in the future, they “will be corrected in the fastest and most appropriate manner possible.”

The general stated that "We've been shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans for a long time. We've been dying alongside the Afghans for a long time because we believe in them; we believe in their country, and we want to have every opportunity to give them a bright future.”

The inability of the allied contingent to understand and respect religious and cultural references in Afghanistan interferes with effort to defeat Taliban. Muslims – Afghans included – consider the Koran the literal word of God, so the torch treatment of the holy book does not add popularity to the occupational forces.

AFP Photo / Shah Marai
AFP Photo / Shah Marai
Reuters / Ahmad Masood
Reuters / Ahmad Masood
AFP Photo / Shah Marai
AFP Photo / Shah Marai
Reuters / Ahmad Masood
Reuters / Ahmad Masood