05/11/2005, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Deadly protests over alleged US desecration of Qu'ran

Karzai asks NATO to continue its peace-making effort in the country; NATO's General secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer reassures the President of the organisation's commitment.

Jalalabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At least two people died and 40 were injured in anti-US protests in Jalalabad (eastern Afghanistan), this according to Mohammed Avub Shinwari, deputy chief of the city's health department.

Protests began yesterday when some news reports began circulating about alleged acts of desecration against the Qu'ran by US servicemen on the US base in Guantanamo Bay.

Demonstrators took to the streets protesting "the blasphemous use of the Qu'ran"; it is believed that in at least one case a copy of the holy book was flushed down the toilet".

Eventually yesterday, some 2,000 people chanting "Death to America" protested, demanding an apology and harsh punishment for those involved in the desecration.

Today, many more joined in, including students and ordinary residents, with an estimated 5,000 people marching in the city. This time, protesters also denounced Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Car windows were smashed, several shops were looted and buildings housing government offices and foreign agencies were stoned. Eyewitnesses said smoke could be seen rising from various points in the city.

According to Jalalabad's police Chief Abdul Rehman, "officers shot in the air to keep the crowd under control".

The US leads about 18,300 foreign troops that have been present in the country since the war that toppled the Taliban regime.

President Karzai, who is currently in Brussels where he spoke at NATO headquarters, said his country would still need the organisation's assistance even after the upcoming elections so that the "job is not half done".

For the Afghan leader, it will take the country 'many, many years" before it can stand on its own tow feet.

He thanked NATO for what it has done so far "bringing security that allowed for free elections" and "defeated terrorism and extremism".

NATO's General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer assured his Afghan guest that the military alliance would remain committed to Afghanistan.

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