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Afghan Students Protest Danish Cartoons --> Afghan men in Kabul protesting on March 4 (AFP) Thousands of students blocked a highway in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar on March 9 in the latest in a series of protests over what participants say are insults to Islam. The protest near the city of Jalalabad comes a day after demonstrations in the western city of Herat.

The protestors denounced the reprinting of a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in Danish newspapers and the forthcoming release of a film on the Koran by a right-wing Dutch politician.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reports that the marchers on the highway burned Danish and Dutch flags and chanted: "Death to Denmark and the Netherlands."

The cartoon, which depicted Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, was one of 12 that prompted bloody riots in many Muslim countries in 2006. It was republished by a number of Danish papers last month to show solidarity with the cartoonist after three men were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill him.

Meanwhile, a Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders, is expected to release a film, thought to be critical of the Koran, later this month.

"We call on the Afghan government to cut diplomatic relations with Denmark and the Netherlands. Dutch and Danish forces should be expelled from Afghanistan. Based on Islamic brotherhood, we urge all Muslims across the world to boycott Danish and Dutch goods," one of the demonstrators in Nangarhar province said, reading from a prepared statement.

The Afghan government has called the reprinting of the Danish cartoon an attack against Islam amid concern it could swell the ranks of Islamic militants. The Taliban has said Wilders film and the reprinting of the cartoon are part of a "Crusader war" against Muslims.

On March 8 several thousand people marched in the western city of Herat and shouted angry slogans against Denmark and the Netherlands.

One of the protesters, Mohammad Akbar, warned those who insult Islam.

"We would call a Jihad against anyone who insults our prophet, anyone who insults our leader. And we would demonstrate against him," Akbar said.

Similar protests were held in other parts of the country the previous week, including the capital, Kabul, where on March 4 about 200 lawmakers urged the Danish and Dutch governments to prevent what they said was blasphemy against Islam.

Afghanistan is an Islamic republic where criticism of Prophet Muhammad and the Koran can carry the death sentence.

The Netherlands has about 1,500 troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led peace-keeping mission, while Denmark has more than 600.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report)

Negotiations With The Taliban

January 8, 2008 -- In a major step for the program of reconciliation with the Taliban, a former Taliban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, has been appointed district chief of Musa Qala, in Helmand Province. Salaam switched sides in December 2007 just before a key battle to secure the town of Musa Qala. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly tried to lure militant fighters away from the Taliban and into the fold of the government, and his office said Salaam's appointment is "consistent with Afghan government policies."

December 27, 2007 -- Two Western aides were expelled from Afghanistan for allegedly holding talks with the Taliban. British and European officials said the expulsions of a senior British UN official and a senior Irish adviser to the EU mission were the result of a "misunderstanding." Karzai's spokesman said the two men were "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."

December 13, 2007 -- Britain is understood to have given its support to Karzai to negotiate with Taliban militants as part of a long-term strategy to bring peace in Afghanistan. The controversial announcement was expected to meet resistance from U.S. hard-liners, but was seen in Britain as essential, as the country's troops face the prospect of further years of fighting in Afghanistan. The same day, the Taliban's former chief spokesman revealed that top-level talks were under way between the Afghan government and key lieutenants of former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

September 9, 2007 -- Karzai renewed calls for talks with Taliban insurgents, but lamented the difficulty of establishing a dialogue. "We do not have any formal negotiations with the Taliban. They do not have an address. Who do we talk to?" Karzai asked.

April 7, 2007 -- Karzai said for the first time that he had held meetings with members of the Taliban as part of a reconciliation effort. But he ruled out talks with the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, or foreign militants fighting with the Taliban. The announcement of negotiations with the Taliban was reported to have opened a rift between Karzai's Pashtun backers and mainly ethnic-Tajik northerners, who have coalesced in a new opposition party led by parliament speaker Yunos Qanuni.

November 30, 2006 - Pakistan denied press reports stating that the country's foreign minister was urging NATO countries to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with the Taliban in Afghanistan and refrain from sending more troops there. Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" reported that Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri privately told his NATO counterparts that the Taliban is winning the conflict in Afghanistan, and that the coalition should work toward a new coalition government in Kabul that excludes Karzai.

February 24, 2005 -- Afghan authorities met with four former senior Taliban leaders, thought to be moderate members of the ousted regime, in a bid to get more hardened fighters to surrender. The Taliban's former unofficial envoy to the UN, Abdul Hakim Mujahid, former Deputy Higher Education Minister Arsullah Rahmani, former Deputy Minister of Refugees Rahmatullah Wahidyar, and Habibullah Fawzi, former charge d'affaires at the Afghan Embassy in Saudi Arabia, met with authorities in Kabul.

September 5, 2004 -- Second-tier cabinet officials agreed to a three-phase strategy for dealing with the Taliban: talks, followed by diplomatic pressure and covert funding, and as a last resort, "direct action" to wrest control from the remaining Taliban strongholds.

October 20, 2003 -- Afghan officials report that the government is in talks with prominent "moderates" from the former Taliban regime in an attempt to turn the tide of antigovernment and anti-U.S. sentiment in southern Afghanistan.