Two protesters were killed and several more injured as for a third straight day violent demonstrations swept Afghanistan yesterday in response to the threats made by a US church to burn copies of the Koran.
Chanting "Death to America" and "Death to Christians", about 500 demonstrators clashed with Afghan security forces in Logar province, south of Kabul, pelting them with stones until the soldiers opened fire, killing two and wounding five others. Few protesters were aware that the Koran burning by the pastor of a small church in Florida had been called off, and some warned of more violence to come.
"The [district] 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," Mohammad Yahya, one of the protesters, said. For his part, the governor, Mohammad Amin Rahim, said he had tried to convince demonstrators that the burning would not go ahead "but the demonstrators were not convinced and attacked us".
The attacks followed annual 9/11 ceremonies in Manhattan followed by duelling rallies either protesting the plans for an Islamic community centre and mosque near ground zero or voicing their support for it.
Pastor Terry Jones, the head of the small evangelical church in Florida behind the Koran burning plan, flew to New York in the hope of meeting with leaders of the mosque and persuading them to move the Islamic centre in exchange for his cancelling his own plans. No meeting had taken place, he said, but he confirmed that no copies of the Koran would be burnt.
The protests ended after dusk without injuries or arrests. The mood was often angry, however. Two unidentified men were seen desecrating copies of the Koran on the streets of New York. Placards and T-shirts bore conflicting slogans, some clearly anti-Islamic. Some men wore shirts with the St George Cross on the back and the words "English Defence League ... No Mosque at Ground Zero".
The English group describes itself on its website as a group with members who "can see the threat of 'Islamism' for what it is: a vile and virulent ideology based on 7th-century barbarity, intolerance, hatred, subjugation and war".
Interviewed on US television yesterday, the imam who first conceived of building the disputed mosque and community centre, Feisal Abdul Rauf, admitted he "would never have done it" had he known the uproar it would cause. "I'm a man of peace," he said. Rauf did not directly respond to compromise proposals that have come from, among others, the Governor of New York, David Paterson, that he should build his centre away from ground zero. A decision to relocate, he suggested, could spark trouble with radical Muslims worldwide..........
"The discourse about it is being watched very, very closely," he said. "If we make the wrong move, it will only expand and strengthen the voice of the radicals and the extremists."