President Barack Obama has denounced as "outrageous" the killings in Afghanistan that have been triggered by the burning of a Koran by a radical Christian preacher in the United States.
In a statement released by the White House, Obama says "the desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry."
However, the statement continues, "to attack and kill innocent people in response" to the burning of a Koran is "outrageous" and "an affront to human decency and dignity."
The U.S. president’s statement adds that "no religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act."
Some 20 people have been killed in Afghanistan over the burning of Islam's holy book, including seven foreign United Nations workers who were killed April 1 in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif.
The extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who supervised the burning of a Koran in March at his church in Florida, has blamed Islam and the religion's militant followers for causing the deadly violence.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry sent a special, high-ranking delegation to Mazar-i-Sharif to investigate the violent protests in the city, the ministry's spokesman Zmarai Bashari told correspondents in Kabul.
Local police estimated that about 5,000 people took part in the rally to condemn the burning of a Koran in the United States, he said.
"After Friday Prayers people headed toward the UN office and on the way the rally turned violent," Bashari said. "Unfortunately, the violence resulted in casualties, it caused loss of lives. As for other damage, seven vehicles, including a police vehicle, were set on fire."
The mob then broke into the UN office, killing four Nepalese guards and three civilian personnel, including a Norwegian pilot and a Swedish lawyer. A third staffer killed in the attack was reported to be a Romanian citizen.
The burning of a copy of Koran reportedly occurred on March 20 in a small Florida church. Pastor Terry Jones outraged millions of Muslims last year when he announced plans to set fire to copies of the Koran on September 11.
Afghans learned about last month's reported Koran-burning when Karzai condemned the desecration of the Muslim holy book a few days afterward.
Protests over the Koran burning have also taken place in the northern town of Sheberghan and the western city of Herat, but demonstrations there were peaceful.
Alem Rahmanyar, a Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent in Sheberghan, said some 1,000 people marched in the city on April 1, condemning the desecration of the Koran and demanding an apology from the pastor.
"The city was under tightened security measures," Rahmanyar said. "The demonstration lasted for two hours, during, which all shops were closed. The protesters dispersed peacefully."
Addul Munir, a protester in Sheberghan, said, "Such rallies will continue in Afghanistan until the U.S. pastor offers his apology to all Muslims in the world."
written by Farangis Najibullah, with reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents in Kabul, Kandahar, and Sheberghan