Afghans' protests of Quran-burning still rage

An Afghan protestor holds a burning effigy of the American pastor, Terry Jones, during a demonstration in Shinwar, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Monday, April 4, 2011. Protests erupted in Afghanistan again Monday against a U.S. Florida pastor's burning of the Quran, making four straight days of demonstrations, some deadly, against the destruction of Islam's holy book.(AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
Rahmat Gul

Protests broke out again in Afghanistan over a Florida pastor's burning of the Quran, making four straight days of demonstrations — some deadly — against the destruction of Islam's holy book. At least 21 people have been killed in the past three days of protests across the country.

The violence was set off by anger over the March 20 burning of the Quran by a Florida church — the same church whose pastor had threatened to do so last year on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, triggering worldwide outrage.

The Quran burning appears to have inflamed a simmering anti-foreigner sentiment in the country, where anger about civilian casualties and international contractors making fortunes off the long-running conflict have worn down the welcome for Western forces over more than nine years of fighting.

Hundreds gathered in two separate protests in the east Monday — one in Laghman province and one in neighboring Nangarhar, but both ended without major violence.

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The Laghman demonstration briefly threatened to turn into another melee as about 300 protesters brandished sticks and threw stones at police, who fired shots in the air to disperse the crowds, according to an Associated Press photographer at the scene.

The protest started in Alingar district and the shouting crowd moved toward the provincial capital of Mihtarlam, where they clashed with officers who wanted to keep them out of the city, said Gen. Abdul Aziz Gharanai, the provincial police chief. No one was injured, he said.

In Nangarhar's Ghanikhail district, hundreds blocked a main road and burned an effigy of the Florida pastor, the Rev. Terry Jones, before disbanding after about an hour and half, according to an AP photographer.

The violence started Friday when thousands of demonstrators in the previously peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif poured into the streets after Friday's Muslim prayer services and overran a U.N. compound, killing three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese guards.

A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai said two delegations have been appointed to investigate the protest in Mazar-i-Sharif and others in Kandahar to find out why Afghan security forces could not control the crowds and what caused the demonstrations to turn violent.

Karzai has called on the international community to repudiate acts of Quran desecration and other acts that are offensive to the faiths of others and punish those responsible for the burning, spokesman Waheed Omar said.

"This is a very sensitive topic for the Afghan people," he said.