Friday, February 24, 2012

Koran Protests Resume in Afghanistan Despite U.S. Apology

From The New York Times:

Koran Protests Resume in Afghanistan Despite U.S. Apology

Musadeq Sadeq/Associated Press
Policemen ran after protesters on Friday during a demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, over the burning of Korans by American military personnel.
KABUL, Afghanistan — The anger over the American military’s burning of Korans this week claimed at least 10 more lives on Friday as rage continued to explode across the country and began to reverberate in international policy.
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Ahmad Masood/Reuters
 A boy who works at a Kabul bakery watched a protest from a window.

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Ten Afghan civilians protesting the Koran burnings died Friday, most of gunshot wounds, although one protester was trampled to death, bringing the death toll since Tuesday, when the violence started to 24, according to local officials and emergency room doctors.
An apology by President Obama on Thursday failed to keep thousands off the streets in Kabul and around the country. In light of that apology, which was attacked by Republican critics, the United States postponed plans to apologize to the Pakistani government for the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers last November at a border base, in order to avoid further political fallout in an election year, a Defense Department official said.
After German soldiers were pelted with stones by an angry crowd in Takhar Province, in northern Afghanistan, the German military decided to withdraw its soldiers from a small base there several weeks earlier than planned. The base had just 50 soldiers, so the withdrawal will have little impact, but the early departure appeared symbolic of a growing disengagement by members of the NATO coalition. France announced last month that it would bring home its combat troops in 2013, a year earlier than expected.
It was unclear on Friday night whether, after four days of protests, the violence that has rolled through the country was finally spent, or if the Koran burning had uncorked an inexhaustible well of fury over the continuing presence of Western troops after 10 years of war. In some measure, the angry demonstrations were to be expected in a religious country fed up with foreigners, but the tension this week seems more pervasive and irresolvable than in the past.
“The violence is almost within the normal realm of things that you would see after this kind of incident,” said Martine Van Bijlert, a co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a policy and research institute in Kabul. “The big question is, how long does it go on? You have to watch who jumps on the bandwagon. It is very intense, and there’s the feeling that all areas need to have had their own demonstration if they haven’t had one yet.”
The worst violence Friday was in Herat Province, in the West on the Iranian border, where seven people were killed. Protesters there were armed and some appeared to be agents provocateurs, government officials said.
“People were on their way home after the prayer when a number of opposition and agitator people, misusing the pure emotions of the people, urged them to go toward the United States Consulate in the city,” said Mohyaddin Noori, the spokesman for Herat’s provincial governor. “On the way to the consulate, some of these riotous people who were armed opened fire and were throwing rocks.”
One of the vehicles hit by gunfire was a police truck full of ammunition, which exploded, sending bullets in all directions and wounding 65 people, he said.
Several Heratis suggested that Iranian agents were at work behind the scenes. Some noted that Radio Mashad, an Iranian station, had urged action against Western interests in Afghanistan, taking advantage of a moment when people’s emotions were running high, said Mohammed Rafiq Shaheer, a professor of political science at Herat University. He noted that protesters appeared to have been directed to march towards the American Consulate by mullahs in several areas of the city.
He said that he blamed Pakistani and Iranian intelligence. Both agencies, he said, “have invested a lot in this country and they have people loyal to them, and this is a perfect time for the intelligence apparatus of the neighboring countries to ignite people’s fiery emotions which would lead them to violence.”
Two protesters died in Khost Province, near the Pakistan border, and one in Baghlan Province.
In Kabul, despite larger numbers of protesters on the streets, only a handful were injured.
Reporting was contributed by Graham Bowley, Jawad Sukhanyar and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul, and employees of The New York Times from Khost and Kunduz.
Reporting was contributed by Graham Bowley, Jawad Sukhanyar and Sangar Rahimi from Kabul, and employees of The New York Times from Khost and Kunduz.

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