- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed for calm Wednesday after seven people were killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters furious over the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. military base.

The anger over the Koran burning has sparked two days of protests across Afghanistan and tapped into anti-foreign sentiment fueled by a popular perception that U.S. and Western troops disrespect Afghan culture and Islam.

The demonstrations prompted the U.S. to lock down its embassy and bar its staff from traveling.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said that seven people were killed - four in clashes in the eastern province of Parwan, one at a U.S. base outside Kabul, and one each in Jalalabad and Logar provinces. It said an investigation was under way to determine what happened.

“The people have the right to protest peacefully, but I appeal to my countrymen not to resort to violence,” Mr. Karzai said in a statement.

He also called on the Afghan security forces to protect the protesters, not battle them.

Mr. Karzai said he shared the Afghan people’s pain at hearing of the Koran desecration, but asked them to “please be patient and wait for the end of the investigation.”

The demonstration in Kabul drew thousands of protesters who chanted “Death to America,” hurled rocks and set tires on fire outside a complex that is home to foreign contractors, police and some coalition military forces.

Nearby, angry demonstrators set a fuel truck on fire on a main highway running east out of the city, sending black smoke billowing into the air.

The U.S. apologized Tuesday for burning the copies of the Koran, which had been pulled from the shelves of the Parwan Detention Facility, adjoining Bagram Air Field, because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said after the books had been mistakenly given to troops to be burned at a garbage pit without realizing it.

“It was not a decision that was made because they were religious materials,” Gen. Allen said Tuesday, one day after Afghan workers at the garbage pit found the books.

“It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened.”

A Western military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the copies of the Koran and other Islamic readings in the library were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.

He spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

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