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Soldiers and police were on high alert in Kabul as thousands of Afghans took to the streets for a fourth day of protests over reports of NATO personnel burning of several copies of Islam's holy book. The continued protests come a day after two US soldiers were killed by a man wearing an Afghan Army uniform, indicating worsening fallout from the Qurans' burnings.
Demonstrators throwing rocks and shouting "Death to America!" and "Long live Islam!" marched toward the presidential palace after Friday prayers. Police attempted to disperse the crowd by firing into the air; one protester was injured by the gunfire, Reuters reports. The New York Times reports that some protesters waved Taliban flags and wore headbands bearing jihadist slogans.
Also on Friday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with his political allies to attempt to rein in the violent protests, which have left nearly a dozen people dead. The Times writes that while Mr. Karzai and other Afghan politicians share the public's disgust over the burning of the Qurans, they fear that if the violence continues, police or military may use deadly force against protesters. That action could, in turn, set off a cycle of violence.
Karzai has indicated that he has accepted the apology of US President Obama, which was given in a letter Thursday. One Afghan lawmaker told the Times that in Karzai's meeting with members of Parliament, he "said that ‘according to our investigation we have found that American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Koran and we will accept their apology.’”
The incident has already harmed US efforts in Afghanistan, both directly and indirectly. A man that NATO described as wearing an Afghan Army uniform – which, Monitor reporter Dan Murphy notes, is a "boilerplate bit of epistemological doubt" that "has become common in ISAF statements over the past year, and the killers almost always turn out to be Afghan soldiers or police" – shot and killed two US soldiers on Thursday in apparent response to the burnings. The Taliban called on more Afghan security forces to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders."
And Pakistan and Iran have both turned up the political pressure on the US. Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami said in a speech that the Quran burning "was not a mistake. It was an intentional move, done on purpose." And the Pakistani Foreign Ministry called the burning "utterly irresponsible."
“On behalf of the government and the people of Pakistan, we condemn in strongest possible terms the desecration of Holy Quran in Afghanistan,” a spokesman said.
Matthew Fisher, a columnist for Canada's Postmedia Network, warns that the Quran burnings haven't just harmed American efforts in Afghanistan, but they've directed a blow to Western efforts more broadly.
"Thanks to a staggering blunder by American troops, the jobs of all NATO soldiers in Afghanistan, including more than 900 Canadian military advisers scattered across more than a dozen bases in Kabul and western Afghanistan, got more complicated and dangerous," he wrote. "Given the consequences of this colossally stupid act at Bagram, Obama might have also apologized to Canada and to the other coalition forces in Afghanistan for making the work of their troops more perilous."
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