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Afghan protesters kill UN workers over Qur'an burning

Published time: April 01, 2011 20:36
Edited time: April 02, 2011 01:43

In the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan protesters rallying against Qur'an burnings have killed at least seven UN workers and wounded many others. Five protesters also died in the chaos.

Seven UNAMA employees have been killed, out of which five are Nepalese and two others are Europeans," Balkh governor Atta Mohammad Noor told AFP.

The UN has yet to confirm the death toll.

Demonstrations began peacefully and later turned violent. Afghanis were protesting reports that a pastor in the United States burned a copy of the Qur'an.

Pastor Terry Jones of a fundamentalist Christian church in Florida had threaded to burn copies of the holy book but later backed down after receiving warnings that his actions might endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, on March 21 Jones was present when Pastor Wayne Sapp burned a Qur'an.

Most protesters remained peaceful, but enough turned violent and began to attack the UN compound out of anger.

"Some protesters were already carrying weapons, as some weapons were taken from (UN) office security guards," said a police spokesperson.

The outburst of violence comes as a surprise for the city of Mazar-e-Sharif which was poised to be one of the first cities to be transferred from NATO to Afghani control. Foreigners in the city have retreated to locked-down compounds for their safety.

In Kabul peaceful protests against the Qur'an burnings took place, where hundreds of Afghanis marched on the US embassy.

Neal Shea, a contributing writer to National Geographic magazine who is familiar with this region of Afghanistan explained the incidents show certain things cannot be predicted.

There have been warnings about burning Qur'an, but little has come of them – until now.

Clearly it has repercussions beyond the United States borders,” he said. “I don’t think that the people in the church have been considering that.”

These types of incidents have an echo effect, he explained, likening the burning of the Qur'an to incidents like the images of Mohammad published by a Danish newspaper.

Shea said those in the west often do not see what the big deal is, but it is important to those in the Middle East.

We know that small effects like this can ripple and turn into tidal waves against our forces and our allies,” he explained.

Shea said the incident was likely not anti-NATO or anti-UN specifically. It has less to do with the war, al-Qaeda or the Taliban and more to do with the book burning itself.

Col. Tony Shaffer, a senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies in Washington said there are always consequences for actions, but everyone must respect all religions.

Shaffer noted however, the response of Muslims to the burning does not help the argument that Islam is a religion of peace. While it was wrong to burn the Qur'an, it was also wrong to respond with violence.

Christians would probably have seen a Bible burning very badly, I don’t think they would have killed of it,” he said.

It’s always in your best interest to respect religion,” Shaffer commented. “If you intend to say something bad about a religion, there’s going to be consequences with someone.”