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Deadliest day in Afghanistan's Quran protests

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In Friday prayer sermons, Afghan mullahs called for calm among the people The fourth straight day of protests over the burning of Qurans at a US-led base in Afghanistan have led to the death of 11 Afghans, including a protester who was shot dead in the capital Kabul.

Friday's deaths, the most since protests began on Tuesday, bring the four day total to 25 dead, including two US soldiers.

Seven protesters were killed on Friday in the western city of Herat, where protesters tried to storm the US consulate. Another protester died in the Pol-e-Khomri area of northern Baghlan province. Two deaths were also reported in the eastern province of Khost.

Hundreds of demonstrators marched toward the palace of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, chanting "Death to America!", prompting security forces to fire into the air in an attempt to disperse them.

Demonstrations have been reported in several locations across the country, including Ghazni, Nangarhar, Paktia, Kunar, Bamiyan and Khost.

"Although peaceful demonstrations are the right of people, we strongly urge our countrymen to fully avoid turning them into violent ones," Sediqqi said earlier in the day.

Security has been beefed up around major mosques, and police in armed pick-up trucks are guarding streets and buildings around such locations.

'Irresponsible actors'

Afghan political analyst Haseeb Humayoon said the rising death count in the protests show "the room for error is reducing" for international forces in the country.

Humayoon also said "some very irresponsible actors in the political arena do actually use this for very minor, very small political ends of their own".

US President Barack Obama has sent a letter to Karzai, apologising for the unintentional burning of the Qurans at the Bagram air base. Afghan labourers found charred copies of the Muslim holy book while collecting rubbish at the base.

Two US soldiers were also killed on Thursday when an "individual wearing the Afghan army uniform" opened fire on them at a military base in Khogyani, in eastern Nangarhar province.

In a speech to ISAF soldiers at that same base, John Allen, commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, told the soldiers they must move beyond the deaths to continue on their mission in the central-Asian nation.

"We're here for our friends. We're here for our partners. We're here for the Afghan people ... Now is how we show the Afghan people that as bad as that act was at Bagram, it was unintentional and Americans and ISAF soldiers do not stand for this" Allen said.

On Thursday, the Taliban had called on Afghans to "turn their guns on the foreign infidel invaders", but went on to say that negotiations with the US in Qatar would not be affected by the call to arms against foreign forces.

The Afghan government says that it wants those responsible for the burning to be tried publicly.

On Friday, US General John Allen, NATO's top military commander, called for restraint and patience from Afghans, saying that NATO and Afghan leaders were working together to insure the incident was not repeated.

Desecration of the Quran, considered to be the literal word of God by Muslims, is highly controversial in Muslim-majority nations.

Appeal for calm

An Afghan government delegation investigating the burning described the incident as "shameful", but issued an overnight appeal for calm from the protesters.

"In view of the particular security situation in the country, we call on all our Muslim citizens of Afghanistan to exercise self-restraint and extra vigilance in dealing with the issue," the delegation said in a statement.

In central Kabul, elite riot police in protective jackets and helmets secured intersections after complaints that security forces had not protected citizens adequately during the previous days protests.

The US embassy in Kabul has been on a heightened state of alert over the last two days, and movement restrictions for US citizens have been expanded to the relatively peaceful northern provinces, where large demonstrations took place on Thursday. At one such demonstration, protesters attempted to storm a Norwegian military base.

US citizens have been advised to "avoid any unnecessary movement" by the embassy.

Demonstrations in the last three days have drawn thousands of angry protesters to the streets, chanting "Death to America!" and smashing shops and windows.


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