KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Two policemen were killed and more than 30 people wounded in the southern city of Kandahar on Sunday during the third day of violent protests across Afghanistan against the burning of a Koran by a radical fundamentalist U.S. pastor, officials said.
Violence at earlier demonstrations claimed more than 20 lives. Ten people were killed and more than 80 wounded in Kandahar on Saturday. Seven foreign U.N. staff and five Afghan protesters were killed on Friday after demonstrators overran an office in normally peaceful Mazar-i-Sharif city in the north.
On Sunday, hundreds of people had marched through Kandahar, toward another U.N. office, on the second day of protests in the city after U.S. preacher Terry Jones had supervised the burning of a copy of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20.
“The information I have is that two policemen have been killed and 20 others, including police, protesters and citizens, have been wounded,” Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council, told Reuters.
Another 14 people, including two children, were wounded when protesters seized a gas canister taken from a shop and set it on fire, causing an explosion, Zalmay Ayoubi, the spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor said.
There were also peaceful demonstrations in Kabul, western Herat city, Jalalabad city in the east and northern Tahar province, and it initially appeared that Sunday’s march in Kandahar would also finish without incident.
The governor had promised a strong police presence and many of the morning’s demonstrators had drifted away before violence broke out in the early afternoon.
Afghan and foreign officials said insurgent infiltrators had sparked the killings, although a Taliban spokesman said they were driven by spontaneous emotion.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on Congress to condemn the burning of the Koran and prevent it from happening again.
Karzai made the request at a meeting with U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, the presidential palace said in a statement.
“The American Congress and Senate must condemn this in clear words, show their stance, and prevent such incidents from happening again,” the statement said.
Eikenberry read to Karzai from U.S. President Barack Obama’s earlier condemnation of the Koran burning, the statement said.
Obama denounced the act of burning a Koran but did not mention Jones by name.
On Sunday, Petraeus joined the condemnation being voiced by many other political and religious leaders, urging Afghans to understand only a small number of people had been disrespectful to the Koran and Islam.
“We condemn, in particular, the action of an individual in the United States who recently burned the Holy Koran,” Petraeus said in a statement, which was also signed by NATO’s senior civilian representative, ambassador Mark Sedwill.
“We also offer condolences to the families of all those injured and killed in violence which occurred in the wake of the burning of the Holy Koran,” he said.
Around 1,000 people blocked the main highway from Kabul to Jalalabad earlier on Sunday and burned U.S. flags.
“We want the preacher who burned the holy Koran to get a severe punishment,” said 20-year-old protester Jalil Ahmad. “He is not a human being, he is a brain-dead animal.”
In an interview with Reuters on Saturday, Jones was unrepentant and defiantly vowed to lead an anti-Islam protest outside the biggest mosque in the United States later this month.
The Taliban said in a statement on Sunday that Afghans were still ready to give their lives to protest against an offence that it said the West was not taking seriously.
“The U.S. government should have punished the perpetrators, but the American authorities and those in other countries not only did not have a serious reaction, but defended (the burning) to some extent in the name of freedom of religion and speech,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ismail Sameem; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait)
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