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Republican Candidates Say Afghans Should Apologize

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Afghanistan should apologize to the U.S.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said Afghanistan should apologize to the U.S.

Three of the four Republican candidates still in the running for the U.S. presidency said in televised interviews on February 26 that U.S. President Barack Obama should not have apologized for the Koran-burning incident in Afghanistan.

News that Korans and other Islamic religious materials were burned by U.S. troops at the Bagram military base earlier this month sparked angry protests in several Afghan provinces.

During the six days of unrest that followed, some 30 Afghans were killed. The February 25 killing of two U.S. advisers, who were shot dead in the Interior Ministry building in Kabul, has been connected to the continued outrage over the Koran burnings.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker handed over an official apology from President Obama to Afghan officials on February 23.

Republican candidates competing to run against Obama this November seized on the issue in their campaigns. They have criticized Obama for the apology and said it is Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people who should be apologizing to the U.S.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on February 26, candidate Rick Santorum said the burning of the Korans "was inadvertent." "This was a mistake and there was no deliberate act," Santorum said. He said it "should not have occurred, but it was an accident" and so "there was no act that needed an apology."

Propaganda Tool For Taliban

Santorum said what happened in Afghanistan after the news broke about the burning of the Korans does require an apology. "I think the response needs to be apologized for by Karzai and the Afghan people of attacking and killing our men and women in uniform and overreacting to this inadvertent mistake," Santorum said, adding, "that is the real crime here, not what our soldiers did."

Another Republican candidate, Newt Gingrich, released a statement after President Obama's apology that said, "It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around" and branded Obama an "appeaser."

In a separate interview on Fox News, also on February 26, candidate Mitt Romney said "with regards to the [Obama] apology, I think for a lot of people it sticks in their throat." Romney said, "The idea that we are there, having lost thousands of individuals through casualty and death -- we've made an enormous contribution to help the people there achieve freedom, and for us to be apologizing at a time like this is something which is very difficult for the American people to countenance."

Afghan officials worry the Taliban is using the Koran-burning incident as a key propaganda tool to incite the Afghan people against Karzai's government and the presence of foreign troops.

Karzai appealed for calm, saying the demonstrations of discontent had already served their purpose. "Now that we have shown our sentiments and defended our belief and religious values with the cost of our lives, it's time to regain and preserve calm," Karzai said. The Afghan president warned, "We should not allow enemies to misuse it and to risk our country and our people's properties."

But in these public comments, he took a hard line with those responsible for burning the Korans.

"On behalf of the Afghanistan nation and the sentiment of Afghans, in fact world Muslims," Karzai said, "we repeated our demand that the American government put on trial and punish those who committed this action."

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