Afghan cops open fire on anti-U.S. protesters

Quran burning protest in Bagram, Afghanistan
Afghan policemen run toward protesters during an anti-U.S. demonstration in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012. Anti-American demonstrations erupted on the outskirts of Kabul for a second day Wednesday and in another Afghan city over an incident that the U.S. said was inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a military base in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Ahmad Jamshid)
Ahmad Jamshid

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan police opened fire Wednesday to disperse thousands of anti-American protesters rioting for a second day over an incident that the U.S. said was inadvertent burning of Muslim holy books at a military base in Kabul.

At least 17 people were wounded in the rallies in the Afghan capital and in another city, officials said.

In Kabul, police shot into the air over a crowd gathered outside a housing complex for foreigners and a U.S. base on the city's outskirts. Nearby, angry demonstrators set a fuel truck ablaze on a main highway linking the Afghan capital with the eastern city of Jalalabad.

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"Death to America," chanted the angry protesters as they hurled rocks and set fires outside the complex, which is home to foreign contractors, police and some coalition military forces.

The Health Ministry said at least 11 people were wounded by gunfire in Kabul, and provincial officials said at least six were wounded in riots that broke out in the eastern city of Jalalabad.

The U.S. had apologized Tuesday for the burning of books, including Qurans,that had been pulled from the shelves of a detention center library adjoining Bagram air base because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.

The White House later echoed military officials and said the burning of Qurans and other Islamic reading material that had been tossed in a pile of garbage was an accident.

As the rally Wednesday in Kabul turned violent, the city's police chief Mohammad Ayub Salangi arrived at the scene with hundreds of reinforcements. Police later said the demonstrations had been broken up and that the situation in Kabul was now under control.

"They have the right to demonstrate, but they have to do it in accordance with the law," said Salangi's deputy, police chief Daud Amin, who was also outside the housing complex.

"It is their right to demonstrate. We are also Muslim and we say it was a wrong action from the Islamic point of view," he added about the Quran incident.

A doctor at Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan hospital said at least 10 protesters had been brought to the hospital with gunshot wounds. The doctor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said one of the wounded was in critical condition.

Several miles (kilometers) away, hundreds were also gathered outside Camp Phoenix, a U.S. military base, and were hurling rocks at the installation, said Kabul provincial police spokesman Ashmatullah Stanekzai. Shots were also fired in the air at Camp Phoenix.

Stanekzai said another smaller and peaceful demonstration with just over 100 people took place in western Kabul near the capital's university.

Police in eastern Jalalabad city said that thousands demonstrated in a number of separate protests over the Quran burning incident, with about 1,000 gathering outside an American base at the city's airport. Provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdul Zai said six protesters were wounded around the city of Jalalabad and that a number of buildings had been burned.

After the Quran burning incident was made public Tuesday, more than 2,000 Afghans protested outside the Bagram Air Base near the capital. The incident took place late Monday, when Afghan workers saw soldiers dumping the books in a pit where garbage is burned and noticed the Qurans and other religious books among the trash.

Associated Press writers Amir Shah, Deb Riechmann and Patrick Quinn contributed from Kabul.