Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is appealing for calm after several days of clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters left at least seven people dead across the country.
Afghan officials say dozens of people have been injured in protests held in the capital, Kabul, Parwan province and the eastern city of Jalalabad. The demonstrations erupted Tuesday after reports surfaced suggesting that NATO troops stationed at Bagram Air Base attempted to dispose of a load of Qurans by setting them on fire, but were stopped by Afghan employees.
In a statement Wednesday, Karzai said Afghans have the right to protest, but he urged them not to resort to violence. He also appealed to the protesters to wait for the end of the investigation into the incident.
VOA reporters in Jalalabad saw Afghan security forces Wednesday in riot gear face off against protesters, who were throwing stones and setting fires. Police also used water hoses from vehicles to try and control the crowd. One protester at the scene said that police had opened fire from a checkpoint and hit one of his friends.
Protesters added that they want the Americans out of their country and that words alone cannot change the disrespect that Muslims have suffered.
Meanwhile, crowds in the capital shouted chants of “Death to America” while hurling stones at officers, setting fire to cars and buildings and blocking some main roads. The protest prompted the U.S. Embassy to place its staff on lockdown and suspend all travel.
U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter met Wednesday in Kabul with Afghan leaders, including President Hamid Karzai, to again apologize for the incident.
A day earlier, the commander of the international coalition, U.S. General John Allen, issued an apology and ordered an investigation into the report that coalition forces “improperly disposed” of a large number of Islamic religious texts, including the Quran.
“I assure you…I promise you…this was not intentional in any way,” said Allen. “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.”
The circumstances surrounding the incident are unclear. The Associated Press quoted an unnamed Western military official with knowledge of the incident as saying it appeared that the copies of the Quran in question and other Islamic readings in the library at Bagram were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.
Afghan protests against the destruction of the Muslim holy book have turned deadly in recent years. In April 2011, about 20 people were killed during several days of protests across Afghanistan after little-known U.S. pastor Terry Jones burned a Quran at his small Florida church.