Fears of violent anti-US protests in Afghanistan
24 February 2012
KABUL — There were fears of further violent anti-US protests in Afghanistan on Friday, despite urgent appeals for calm and an apology from President Barack Obama over the burning of Holy Korans at a US-run base.
Three days of bloody demonstrations have killed 14 people, including two American soldiers, forcing Obama to send a written apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the desecration of Islam’s holy book at the Bagram airbase.
The US embassy warned of further violent protests Friday in which Westerners could be targeted, urging Americans to “avoid any unnecessary movement”.
At least one demonstration was reportedly planned for Kabul and more were possible after Friday prayers, the embassy said.
An Afghan government delegation investigating the burning of the Holy Korans described it as a “shameful incident” but issued an overnight call for calm in a country wracked by 10 years of war against hardline Islamist insurgents.
“In view of the particular security situation in the country, we call on all our Muslim citizens of Afghanistan to exercise self-restraint and extra vigilance in dealing with the issue,” the delegation said in a statement.
It urged Afghans to “avoid resorting to protests and demonstrations that may provide ground for the enemy to take advantage of the situation” and pledged that those responsible would be held accountable.
Obama’s apology came in for strong criticism back home, as competition builds in a presidential election year.
“It is an outrage that President Obama is the one apologising to Afghan President Karzai on the same day two American troops were murdered and four others injured by an Afghan soldier,” Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said.
“It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around.”
The two Americans were shot dead by an Afghan soldier at their base in Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province during an anti-US protest.
It was the latest in a series of incidents in which Afghan troops have turned their weapons on their NATO colleagues, but took on an extra significance amid the widespread fury over the burning of the Korans.
It also came hard on the heels of a statement by Taleban insurgents urging Afghans to kill foreign troops to avenge the incident.
The US-led NATO coalition has some 130,000 troops in Afghanistan, fighting an insurgency by remnants of the Taliban government overthrown in 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks.
The coalition plans to pull out all combat troops by 2014, but several countries are under pressure at home to call an early end to an unpopular campaign where foreign forces are viewed by many as unwelcome invaders.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, facing a tough election battle, last month declared he would pull French troops out early after four were shot dead on their base by an Afghan soldier.
The latest incident will fan the flames of anti-Western sentiment already burning over abuses by coalition forces, such as the release last month of a video showing US Marines urinating on the corpses of dead Afghans.
The circumstances surrounding the burning of the Korans are still subject to investigation, but US officials speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP the military removed the books from a prison at Bagram because inmates were suspected of using them to pass messages to each other.