Tuesday 21 February 2012

Afghan Koran burning at Bagram sparks fresh protests


American demonstrations are under way in the Afghan cities of Kabul and Jalalabad over the burning of copies of the Koran by Nato troops. Shots have been fired in Kabul, where protesters have gathered outside a US military base. On Tuesday, the US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John Allen, apologised after soldiers put copies of the Koran in an incinerator at Bagram airbase. The charred remains of the books were found by local labourers. Protesters in Kabul shouted, "Death to America!" and threw stones at the main US base in the city. Pro-Taliban slogans At least four policemen have been injured, reports the BBC's Andrew North, in Kabul. Witnesses at the protests in Kabul said security guards were firing into the air. There are also reports of people chanting pro-Taliban slogans. General John R Allen: 'When we learned of these actions, we immediately intervened and stopped them.' Demonstrators blocked the road linking Kabul with the eastern city of Jalalabad. A riot police unit was attacked by protesters in Kabul and fled, the AFP news agency reported. One protester, 18-year-old Ajmal, told Reuters: "When the Americans insult us to this degree, we will join the insurgents." Two senior Afghan officials told the BBC that religious materials held by Taliban prisoners had been confiscated because US officials suspected they were using them to send secret messages to each other. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said he and Gen Allen apologised to the Afghan people "and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms". After previous incidents, many Afghans find it hard to understand how US forces could have allowed the Koran to have been burned, our correspondent says. Last year, at least 24 people died in protests after a hardline US pastor burned a Koran in Florida. The US embassy in Kabul has tweeted that it is on lockdown and all travel is suspended. On Tuesday, one person was wounded and five detained after troops at Bagram, 60km (40 miles) north of Kabul, fired rubber bullets at protests. Bagram includes a prison for Afghans detained by Nato forces.