Two Afghan Protesters Killed as Koran Tensions Simmer

Afghans protest violently for third straight day, despite a U.S. pastor giving up plans to burn copies of Muslim holy text.

Afghans protested violently for the third straight day on Sunday despite a U.S. pastor giving up plans to burn copies of the Koran, although there were three other cases of desecration of the Muslim holy book.

Two protesters were shot and killed in eastern Logar province, a district official said, taking to three the death toll in protests staged since Friday.

Afghanistan Koran protest - AP - Sept. 10, 2010

The furore over pastor Terry Jones's plans to burn copies of the Koran, a grave insult to Muslims who believe it to be the literal word of God, overshadowed the lead-up to
commemorations for the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks on the United States.

Ceremonies in the United States on Saturday marked the ninth anniversary of the attacks by al Qaeda, which led to the toppling of the Taliban by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001 because the hardline Islamists had harboured Osama bin
Laden's group.

Jones's plan and proposals to build an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near the site of the toppled World Trade Center in New York highlighted a growing debate in the United States about religious tolerance.

Hundreds of people favouring and opposing the cultural centre and mosque gathered in New York for peaceful rallies hours after ceremonies in the city - and in Washington and
Pennsylvania - to mark the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Word of the intention to burn the Koran had already triggered outrage in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world.

President Barack Obama warned it could hurt the United States deeply abroad, endanger U.S. troops in Afghanistan and risk attacks in U.S. and European cities.

'Death to America'

In Afghanistan, angry protesters chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Christians" clashed with security forces in Logar, south of the capital.

Seven demonstrators were wounded, one seriously, when Afghan security forces opened fire to disperse hundreds of protesters marching to Pul-e-Alam, the capital of Logar, officials said.

Mohammad Rahim Amin, chief of Baraki Barak district just west of Pul-e-Alam, said two of the wounded died later in hospital.

The protesters threatened to attack foreign military bases. There are almost 150,000 foreign troops fighting a growing Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan, where violence is at its worst since the hardline Islamists were ousted.

"The governor must give us an assurance that the church is not going to burn the Koran, otherwise we will attack foreign troop bases in our thousands," protester Mohammad Yahya said.

Major Patrick Seiber, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan's east, said ISAF was aware of more protests in Logar on Sunday, but put the crowd at about 100, some wielding sticks and throwing stones.

Four demonstrators were wounded in Logar on Saturday, a day after a protester was shot dead when an angry crowd attacked a German-run ISAF base in Faizabad in northeastern Badakhshan province, one of many protests across the country.

Protests had eased later on Sunday.

While Jones abandoned his plan, there were at least two incidents of abuse of the Koran in Lower Manhattan in New York on Saturday. Two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Koran in Tennessee.

Protests over perceived desecration of Muslim symbols have led to dozens of deaths in Afghanistan in recent years, including after a Danish newspaper published a cartoon
depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.

On Thursday, the United Nations' top diplomat in Afghanistan said the protests risked delaying Afghanistan's Sept. 18 parliamentary election.

Poor security is already a major concern ahead of the poll, with more than 1,000 polling centres out of a planned 6,835 to remain closed. On Sunday, ISAF said a Taliban commander who had been plotting rocket attacks on polling stations had been killed in eastern Nangarghar on Saturday.

The election is seen as a key test of stability in Afghanistan before Obama conducts a strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war in December.

Obama, who has sought to improve ties with the Muslim world frayed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since the September 11 attacks, stressed religious tolerance in remarks at a memorial service in Washington on Saturday.