A total of nine demonstrators were shot dead on Wednesday in anti-U.S. protests in Afghanistan over the burning of the Quran at a U.S. military base, officials said.
Three were killed in Shinwar district of Parwan province north of Kabul, provincial administration spokeswoman Roshna Khalid told AFP.
“The protests got violent. They attacked police with rocks and in a clash between police and protesters three people were killed and over 10 others are injured,” Khalid said.
Two other people died in clashes between police and protesters in Kabul and in the eastern city of Jalalabad, health ministry and hospital sources said.
Anti-U.S. demonstrators burned cars and attacked shops as they tried to march on the center of Kabul in angry protests, police said, according to AFP.
Riot police blocked the entrance to the city center, the U.S. embassy announced it was on lockdown and all travel was suspended, while fires burned along the Jalalabad road where hundreds of demonstrators had gathered.
Protesters shouted “Death to America!” and “Death to (President Hamid) Karzai” in a large demonstration on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul. A second rally had begun in another area of the city, Reuters witnesses said.
“When the Americans insult us to this degree, we will join the insurgents,” said Ajmal, an 18-year-old protester in Kabul, where dozens of protesters charged through police barriers.
Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence.
Winning the hearts and minds of Afghans is critical to efforts to defeat the Taliban. Similar incidents in the past have caused deep divisions and resentment among Afghans towards the tens of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan.
Critics say Western troops often fail to grasp the country’s religious and cultural sensitivities.
Separate protests were also underway in Jalalabad in the east, where demonstrators praised the leader of the Afghan Taliban, the secretive Mullah Mohammad Omar, screaming “Long Live Mullah Omar!” Reuters witnesses said.
Afghan media said demonstrations had also erupted in the western city of Herat, usually one of the more stable areas in a country devastated by three decades of conflict.
In Kabul, protesters smashed car windows while police fired water cannon in a bid to disperse the angry crowd which had blocked a major road.
The U.S. government and the U.S. commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan apologized on Tuesday after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Quran while collecting rubbish at the sprawling Bagram Airbase about an hour's drive north of Kabul.
Demonstrations by as many as 2,000 people broke out as word of the find spread.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued an apology for “inappropriate treatment” of copies of the Quran at the base to try to contain fury over the incident -- a public relations disaster for Washington as it tries to pacify the country ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, earlier on Tuesday apologized and ordered an investigation into an incident in which troops “improperly disposed of a large number of Islamic religious materials which included Korans.”
In an attempt to head off further protests in deeply religious Afghanistan, Allen repeated his apology late Tuesday and said that all troops would be trained in the “proper handling of religious materials no later than March 3,” according to AFP.
For the first time, he admitted that Qurans had been burnt, saying they were “inadvertently taken to an incineration facility at Bagram airfield.”
“Along with our apology to the Afghans is our certainty and assurance to them that these kinds of incidents, when they do occur, will be corrected in the fastest and most appropriate manner possible,” said Allen.
“We’ve been shoulder to shoulder with the Afghans for a long time. We've been dying alongside the Afghans for a long time because we believe in them; we believe in their country, and we want to have every opportunity to give them a bright future.”
Two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP the military removed Qurans from the U.S.-run prison at Bagram because inmates were suspected of using the holy book to pass messages to each other.
Seven foreign U.N. workers were killed during protests that raged across Afghanistan for three days in April 2011 after a U.S. pastor burned a Quran in Florida.