Afghan Quran protests enter fifth day

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Protesters in eastern Afghanistan threw rocks at police and tried to storm the governor’s house in Laghman province, kicking off a fifth day of riots sparked by the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base, officials said.

At least 25 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since Wednesday, when it first emerged that Qurans and religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at the main U.S. base — Bagram Air Field. American officials apologized and said it was a terrible mistake, but the incident has sent thousands to the streets in this deeply religious country.

About 1,000 protesters came out Saturday morning in Laghman province. At first the demonstration was peaceful, but Police Chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said it quickly turned and soon protesters were throwing rocks at police and trying to attack the nearby governor’s house. There were no immediate reports of deaths, but Sarjang said people were getting caught underfoot as the mob pushed forward.

Police were trying to control the crowd, but were not shooting out of concern that even shots in the air would further incite them, Sarjang said.

Another protest was underway in nearby Nangarhar province, but there were no reports of violence there.

On Friday, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan called on his troops to resist any urge to avenge the death of two American soldiers killed in riots over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. base.

The anti-American demonstrations by thousands of Afghans who took to the streets after midday prayers Friday were further evidence that President Barack Obama’s apology has failed to quiet the outrage over what the U.S. says was the inadvertent destruction of the holy books.

The killing of the two U.S. soldiers and the civil unrest have further strained Afghanistan’s relations with the United States. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is trying to negotiate a long-term partnership agreement with the United States to govern the activities of U.S. forces in his country after 2014, when most foreign combat troops will have left or taken on support roles.

The violence against coalition troops also comes at a time when many countries contributing to the force are seeking to accelerate their withdrawal from what has become an unpopular and costly war that has dragged on for more than 10 years.

At least 20 people, including the two U.S. soldiers, have been killed in four days of violence.

Protesters have ignored appeals by Karzai, parliamentarians and some clerics for an end to the violence until an investigation into the incident at Bagram Air Field is concluded in coming days.

Afghan officials said seven people were killed around the country Friday by Afghan security forces trying to disperse crowds or responding to gunfire from protesters.

One of the dead was part of a crowd trying to storm a Hungarian military base in northern Baghlan province. Six others were killed in western Herat province, including three people who died when a truck full of ammunition exploded after protesters set it ablaze, the governor’s office said.

Anti-American protesters also gathered in several locations around Kabul, including in the city’s east, where a demonstrator, his clothes covered in blood, was carried from the scene as about 200 police tried to push the crowd back.

Police sprayed volleys of automatic rifle fire over the heads of protesters chanting “Death to America!” in an effort to prevent them from reaching the defense ministry, located close to the American Embassy.

U.S. Gen. John Allen, who commands all U.S. and coalition troops, traveled late Thursday to the American base in the east where an Afghan soldier opened fire on U.S. troops, killing two Americans.

“There will be moments like this when you’re searching for the meaning of this loss. There will be moments like this when your emotions are governed by anger and a desire to strike back,” Allen said in comments NATO released Friday.

“Now is not the time for revenge. Now is not the time for vengeance. Now is the time to look deep inside your souls, remember your mission, remember your discipline, remember who you are.”