WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama on Saturday condemned a US pastor’s burning of the Quran, after violent protests at what he called an act of “extreme intolerance and bigotry” left 17 dead in Afghanistan.
Obama also reiterated his condemnation of the “outrageous” attacks by protesters as “an affront to human decency and dignity.”
“No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonourable and deplorable act,” he added.
Ten people died amid fresh protests that began in the center of the main southern city of Kandahar and spread as police clashed with crowds on Saturday, a day after seven UN staff were killed in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the worst attack on the world body in the country since the 2001 invasion.
“The desecration of any holy text, including the Quran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” Obama said in a statement honouring those killed in the attacks.
Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, who have fought an insurgency against President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul and its Western allies since they were ousted by the US-led invasion.
“Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” chanted the demonstrators. “They have insulted our Quran,” shouted one.
Police had fired into the air to try to deter thousands of protesters marching toward the UN offices and provincial administration headquarters.
Provincial authorities said the protesters had damaged government and private buildings and torched vehicles. Smoke rose from different parts of the city as protesters burned cars and tires.
Friday’s attackers in Mazar-i-Sharif had broken away from a large demonstration in the city against the burning of a Quran, Islam’s holy book, at an evangelical church in Florida. They overwhelmed guards at the UN compound before setting it ablaze.
The United Nations did not announce the nationalities of the three civilian staff killed. But Sweden named one as 33-year-old Swede, Joakim Dungel. Norway said Lieutenant Colonel Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot, was killed. Diplomats said the third was a Romanian.
“Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the UN workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan,” Obama said in extending his “deepest condolences” to friends and relatives of the victims.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, an evangelical church in Gainesville, Florida, told AFP that “we don’t feel responsible” for the attack, adding: “The radical element of Islam takes (the burning) as an excuse to promote their violent activities.”