Quran burning incites deadly riots in Afghanistan

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Afghanistan’s president called on Afghans to stay calm.

“The people have the right to protest peacefully, but I appeal to my countrymen not to resort to violence,” Karzai said in a statement. He also urged the Afghan security forces to protect the protesters, not battle them.

Karzai said he shared the Afghan people’s pain at hearing of the Quran desecration, but asked them to stay calm.

“Please be patient and wait for the end of the investigation,” Karzai said.

NATO and Afghan investigators visited the Parwan detention facility Wednesday.

German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson said the international coalition would issue a “very clear statement” of what happened and those responsible would be held accountable. He said the incident had “grave implications” for the war effort.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters he was hopeful he incident would not rupture relations with the Afghan government.

“It wasn’t intended in any way to be an act of malice toward a particular religion or its practices,” Dempsey said at a Navy base in Florida. Asked whether NATO troops were in greater danger as a result of Afghan outrage over the Quran burning, he said: “This event raises my concern, sure.”

U.S. officials said the materials had been taken from the shelves of a detention center library because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions. The White House said it was an accident that they were sent to be burned.

Karzai, however, appeared ready to use the uproar to his political advantage.

When Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter called with an apology, the Afghan leader said the incident could have been prevented if Afghans were in charge of the detention center.

“The sooner you transfer the prison, the sooner you will be able to avoid such problems and unfortunate incidents,” Karzai told Carter, according to a statement provided by the president’s office. Karzai has set a March 9 deadline for the U.S. to hand over control of the Parwan detention facility adjoining Bagram, but the Americans have said so far the Afghan justice system is not yet capable of overseeing the operation.

Adding to the heightened anti-foreigner sentiment in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid issued a statement Wednesday encouraging the nation’s youth to join the insurgency, not the ranks of the Afghan security forces.

Mujahid said the Taliban has ordered all its commanders to embrace and protect the families of any Afghan policeman or soldier who turns his gun on foreign troops. “Call them heroes,” he said.

A rising number of Afghan security forces, or militants wearing their uniforms, have shot and killed U.S. and NATO service members. On Monday, gunmen in Afghan police uniforms opened fire on NATO troops in southern Afghanistan, killing an Albanian soldier. Last month, France suspended its training program and threatened to withdraw its forces a year ahead of schedule after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a base in the east.

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