Fury at Koran burning fuels Afghan violence

Violent protests spread further across Afghanistan during a third day of violence yesterday after the Taliban urged people to rise up following the burning of a Koran by a Florida church.

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, followed his US counterpart in condemning the desecration of the holy book in a ceremony two weeks ago, but their criticisms failed to prevent violence spreading to other parts of the country, as the death toll rose from clashes rose to at least 23. Hundreds of demonstrators blocked the main highway in Jalalabad yesterday, burning an effigy of Barack Obama and calling for US troops to leave the country. The eastern city was previously unaffected by the violence. More than 1,000 people set tyres ablaze to block another highway in eastern Parwan province.

The clashes yesterday followed the storming of a UN compound on Friday that left UN staff and their Gurkha guards dead, with two of them beheaded. President Obama criticised the attack but he also described the burning of the Koran by the tiny evangelist church in Florida headed by Pastor Terry Jones as an "act of extreme intolerance and bigotry".

The violence is the latest blow to relations between the two countries since the emergence of images of US Army officers posing with the dead bodies of Afghan civilians. Coverage of the officers' trial has fuelled anger on the streets. Afghan officials have accused Taliban insurgents of hijacking the protests for their own benefit.

* Two suicide bombers detonated explosives at a Sufi shrine in Pakistan yesterday, killing 41. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blasts at the Sakhi Sarwar shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Punjab province.