At least eight people were reportedly killed and almost two dozen injured today in protests in Afghanistan over the alleged burning of the Qur'an at the American airbase, Camp Bagram.
Protests were held in the cities of Jalalabad and the capital Kabul, as well as Parwan Province, where Bagram is located. Police clashed with protesters who threw rocks and burnt tires, blocking the highways in several parts of the country.
Afghan news agency Pajhwok reported that police opened fire in Parwan's Shinwari district whne protesters tried to storm government buildings, resulting in at least six deaths. One protester each was killed in Logar Province and in Jalalabad, in Nengrahar Province.
There was, however, confusion about the actual number of deaths. Wire reporter Subel Bhandari tweeted:
Oh vell. In Koran burning protests in Afghanistan, AP says 3 killed. Reuters says 4 killed. AFP says 5 killed. & dpa says 7 killed. So far.
In Kabul, protests were held in front of the US Embassy, and part of a compound housing foreign contractors in the capital was burnt by an angry mob. Demonstrators also gathered in front of the Parliament building where legislators reportedly discussed the situation.
The US and NATO have issued separate statements apologising for the incident. NATO Commander Gen. John R. Allen released a statement to Afghan media:
I offer my sincere apologies for any offense this may have caused, to the president of Afghanistan, the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and, most importantly, to the noble people of Afghanistan.
Allen said books had mistakenly been given to troops to be burned at a garbage pit at Bagram, north of Kabul:
It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials. It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it, we immediately stopped and we intervened.
This morning US Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter met Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Bagram and apologised for the incident.
In 2005, more than a dozen Afghans died after police fired at protesters in Kabul who were angered at the alleged desecration of the Qur'an at the Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba. Newsweek, which ran the initial story of the desecration, later retracted it.
Last year, a dozen people died --- seven United Nations staff and five protesters --- died in protests in northern Afghanistan over US pastor Terry Jones' burning of a copy of the Qur'an in Florida.