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Taliban Calls For Violence Over Koran Burnings As Protests Continue

The Taliban has called on Afghans to launch attacks on military bases and convoys of foreign troops in response to the burning of Korans at a NATO military base earlier this week.

The statement came as more than 1,000 Afghans took to the streets of the capital, Kabul, for a third day of protests over the improper disposal of Islamic religious materials at the Bagram Air Field, which came to light on February 21.

Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters attacked a U.S. base in the eastern province of Laghman, hurling rocks to vent their anger. An AP photographer on the scene said hundreds of men marched on the headquarters of the U.S.-run Provincial Reconstruction Team in the city of Mehtar Lam after taking part in a nearby protest that had gathered about 2,000 demonstrators.

Initial reports said Afghan security forces fired warning shots in the air to try to disperse the crowd that had gathered near the Laghman facility. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Show Of Force

In a February 23 statement, the Taliban urged Afghans to "beat and kill" the "invaders."

The call to further violence came amid continuing protests and other unrest that have killed at least seven people and prompted a call for calm from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

While the largest protest on February 23 appeared to be in Laghman Province, near Kabul, other demonstrations were taking place in Logar and Nangahar.

Charred copies of Islam's holy book were found at Bagram Air Field, sparking days of protests there and elsewhere in Afghanistan despite an apology from a U.S. commander over what he described as an inadvertent incident.

"Our brave people must target the military bases of invader forces, their military convoys, and their invader bases," said an e-mailed statement released by Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.

It went on to urge that such Westerners be beaten and "capture[d]."

But Mujahid said the Koran burning would not affect contacts with U.S. officials in Qatar that are designed to build confidence in a peace process and pave the way for a possible prisoner exchange.

The burnings attracted public attention after Afghan laborers reportedly found charred Korans while collecting trash at Bagram, about an hour north of the capital, Kabul.

Protests there have been followed by others in Jalalabad and Logar, where angry crowds stormed military bases, clashed with riot police, and attacked government buildings.

Official Responses

An RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, said on February 22 that shots had been fired into a surging crowd by Afghan National Police officers trying to restore order.

On February 22, Karzai urged both protesters and security forces not to use violence, adding he was deeply saddened by the loss of life.

Extra police reinforcements have been deployed to quell potential rioting in Kabul and Jalalabad.

The White House, Pentagon, and NATO have apologized for the incident, calling it a mistake, and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered an investigation.

With Reuters, dpa, and AFP reporting

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