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Afghans Protest Quran Burning for Fifth Day

An Afghan protester holds a burning effigy of American pastor Terry Jones during a demonstration in  Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2011.
An Afghan protester holds a burning effigy of American pastor Terry Jones during a demonstration in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2011.

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For the fifth day, Afghans have taken to the streets to protest the burning of a Quran by Florida pastor Terry Jones. Since the initial eruption of violence in Mazar-i-Sharif on Friday, about 20 people are estimated to have died.

The burning of the Muslim holy book by the pastor in southern U.S. state of Florida has evoked angry and sometimes violent protests across Afghanistan for a fifth day.  The reasons for the outrage are complex and, for many, go well beyond the incident.

An estimated 1,000 demonstrators gathered in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to show their anger as well as their grievances.

Some reports indicate the anger has been fanned by elements who want to see failure in the upcoming transition to Afghan security control of the provinces.  

But many critics of the government and the international security forces say the situation was badly mismanaged and could have been avoided.  Some point to the fact that President Hamid Karzai escalated the situation by publicly condemning the burning a few days after the Florida incident.  Since then,  Karzai has been outspoken in his demands for punishment for Jones, with no mention of any legal process.

The director of the American Institute for Afghan Studies in Kabul, Mohammed Omar Sharifi, says perception is also a key problem. "The way the whole Terry Jones case was projected in Afghanistan was, 'We did not hear much about the condemnation, the huge condemnation of his action in the American society.'  If the Afghans hear that I think they will react differently," he said.

On Sunday, General David Petraeus, Commander of the International Forces, made this statement regarding the Quran burning.

"We condemn the action of an individual in the United States who burned a Holy Quran.  That action was hateful, it was intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful,” Petraeus states. “We condemn it in the strongest manner possible."

U.S. President Barack Obama also came out against the Quran burning, but said nothing justified the violence and the deaths caused by the attack on a U.N. compound during protests in Mazar-i-Sharif.

That is a sentiment many Afghans share.  The unexpected violence in Mazar-i-Shariff took many in the country by shock.  For many years, the multi-ethnic town has been comparatively calm and quiet.

Since the attack on Friday, violence and the provocation that has caused it have come under equal condemnation in the Afghan media and others.

For Mohammed Omar Sharifi this is an indication that many Afghans understand the response was disproportionate. "There was a huge condemnation of this violence throughout the country.  For a lot of people, especially if you look at Afghan Media and Afghan Debates, around the country. It was seen as absolutely inappropriate and misguided," Sharifi said.

Sharifi also says a clearer dialogue on both sides could come from these incidents so that such emotional responses might be avoided in the future.   

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