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Anti-US stir in Afghan over Quran burning turns violent

Last updated on: February 22, 2012 16:29 IST

Anti-US stir in Afghan over Quran burning turns violent

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Gunfire wounded at least 26 people during fresh protests in several cities across Afghanistan over the burning of copies of the Quran at the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation's main base -- the Bagram Airbase -- in Afghanistan.

The American Embassy said its staff were in "lockdown" and all travel had been suspended as thousands of people expressed fury over the burning, a public relations disaster for US-led NATO forces fighting Taliban militants ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

The United Nations termed the burning of the Quran and other religious materials as a "sad mistake" and expressed confidence that those behind the incident will be held accountable.

In the wake of the incident, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Jan Kubis met Chairman of the Ulema Council of Afghanistan with Maulawi Qiyamuddin Kashaaf in Kabul, according to a UN statement. The SRSG "expressed his full confidence that the International Security Assistance Force  will rapidly conclude the investigation, take appropriate follow-up action as soon as possible and move quickly to hold people behind this incident accountable."

Kubis told Maulawi Kashaaf that he shared concerns of the people of Afghanistan regarding this "sad mistake that hurts the religious feelings of the people." He stressed that the United Nations deeply respects the Islamic faith, traditions and culture of Afghanistan.

Led by Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, the United States has apologised to the people of Afghanistan on the "inappropriate treatment" of the holy Quran by American soldiers at the Bagram Airbase in a central Afghan province.

"We apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, told reporters at his daily news conference when asked about the incident at the Bagram air base resulting in an outrage in the country.

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Image: Afghan men stand near pieces of wood and tyres which they set on fire during a protest outside the U.S. military base in Bagram, north of Kabul February 21. More than 2,000 Afghans protested outside the main US military base in Afghanistan on Tuesday over a report that foreign troops had improperly disposed of copies of the Quran and other religious items, Afghan officials said.
Photographs: Reuters

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"This was a deeply unfortunate incident that does not reflect the great respect our military has for the religious practices of the Afghan people," Carney said, adding that the US military leaders have apologised for these "unintentional actions", and the International Security Assistance Force is undertaking an investigation to understand what happened and to ensure that steps are taken so that incidents like this do not happen again.

Expressing regret at the incident, Carney said it does not represent the views of US military, and it certainly does not represent the conduct of its men and women in uniform, or America's general respect for the religious practices and beliefs of the Afghan people.


Image: Afghan men gather as some of them throw rocks towards the US military base during a protest in Bagram
Photographs: Reuters

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The White House statement came hours after Panetta offered his personal apology.

"This morning ISAF Commander General John Allen notified me of the deeply unfortunate incident involving the inappropriate treatment of religious materials, including the Quran, at Bagram Airbase," Panetta said in a statement.

"He and I apologise to the Afghan people and disapprove of such conduct in the strongest possible terms," said the US defence secretary, adding that these actions do not represent the views of the United States military.


Image: An Afghan man shouts anti-US slogans 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
Photographs: Reuters

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"We honour and respect the religious practices of the Afghan people, without exception," he said. Panetta said he supports General Allen's swift and decisive action to investigate this matter jointly with the Afghan government. "I will carefully review the final results of the investigation to ensure that we take all steps necessary and appropriate so that this never happens again," he said.

The US State Department termed it as a "horrific" incident. The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was briefed about the incident early in the day. "The desecration of religious articles is not in keeping with the standards of American tolerance, human rights practices and freedom of religion," the State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, said.


Image: Afghan men shout anti-US slogans near a pile of wood and tyres, set on fire by the protesters, during a protest outside the US military base in Bagram
Photographs: Reuters

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