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9 more killed in Afghan protests over Koran-burning

The deaths occur in Kandahar, where 80 others are injured as mobs burn cars, smash windows and otherwise rampage over the Koran-burning at an obscure Florida church.

April 03, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • Afghans in the southern city of Kandahar demonstrate against a Florida pastors burning of the Koran.
Afghans in the southern city of Kandahar demonstrate against a Florida… (Allauddin Khan, Associated…)

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Violent repercussions of a Koran-burning at an obscure Florida evangelical church shook Afghanistan again Saturday, with authorities in the southern city of Kandahar reporting nine people killed in furious street protests.

A day after an attack on the U.N. headquarters in a northern city left seven foreigners dead, rioters rampaged in Kandahar, the city that the Taliban movement considers its spiritual home.

Demonstrators torched cars, smashed windows and occupied a school building, a provincial spokesman said. Shops and businesses shut down as most residents of the country's second-largest city took refuge at home. More than 80 people were injured.

Nerves were further jangled in the Afghan capital when a team of gunmen and suicide bombers, at least two of them wearing all-enveloping burkas, tried to storm a U.S.-run military installation on Kabul's outskirts early Saturday. The attack was repelled and three assailants were killed, along with an Afghan man who may have been a bystander, police said.

Three NATO troops were injured, but not seriously, according to the Western military.

Many international humanitarian organizations operating in the country were in lockdown mode Saturday in the wake of the United Nations compound attack in Mazar-i-Sharif, north of Kabul, with expatriate staffers told to stay indoors and out of public view. It was the deadliest assault on the world body's staff in the course of the nearly 10-year Afghanistan conflict.

A spokesman for the U.N. in Afghanistan, Dan McNorton, said U.N. programs in the country's north would continue to operate, but declined to say whether any foreign staff members remained in the area.

President Obama expressed his condolences to families of the victims on Saturday.

"The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," he said in a statement. "However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity."

U.N. and Afghan officials identified the dead in Friday's attack as four Nepalese Gurkhas who were guarding the compound and three European workers trapped inside — one Swedish, one Norwegian and one Romanian. Norwegian media reported that the slain Norwegian was a female military advisor to the U.N. mission, a decorated veteran and a mother of one.

Four Afghans in the crowd were also killed during the storming of the compound, provincial officials said, and nearly three dozen people were arrested in connection with the attack, including one of its suspected ringleaders. The mob marched on the compound after an incendiary sermon at Friday prayers, the most important of the Muslim week, denouncing the Koran-burning.

Saturday's Kandahar protest followed a similar pattern, spreading over a period of hours to several parts of the city. Provincial spokesman Zalmay Ayoubi accused the Taliban of inciting the violence. However, the provincial government also denounced the "abhorrent" burning of the Koran by "an idiot pastor."

Mazar-i-Sharif, normally one of the most peaceful cities in Afghanistan, was among seven areas designated last month by the Afghan government as the first where security responsibilities would be handed over to the Afghan police and army. Friday's uncontrolled outbreak of violence cast doubt on that plan, and Afghan authorities said the handling of the situation by local police was being investigated. Some witnesses said police officers fired indiscriminately into the crowd.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces at a large Western base just outside Mazar-i-Sharif, the hub of the alliance's northern operations, were not involved in responding to the peril posed to the U.N. mission.

Gen. Abdul Raouf Taj, the deputy police chief in Balkh province, of which Mazar-i-Sharif is the capital, said 33 arrests had been made in the wake of the attack. He said the exchange of gunfire was believed to have been started by a man he identified as being from Afghanistan's Kapisa province, a former insurgent who had been resettled in Mazar after joining a government "reconciliation" program.

The Florida pastor at the center of the controversy expressed no public regrets over the violence triggered by last month's mock "trial" and subsequent torching of a copy of the Muslim holy book. The Rev. Terry Jones instead called for retribution against those who carried out the attack.

laura.king@latimes.com

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