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UN Staff Killed During Afghan Protest

Afghans carry a wounded man following an attack on the UN office during a protest against the burning of a copy of the Quran by a Florida pastor, Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, Friday, April. 1, 2011.

At least 12 people, including eight foreign employees of the United Nations, have been killed in northern Afghanistan, after a protest against the burning of the Quran turned violent, Afghan police said Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned as "cowardly" the attack on the U.N. mission 's compound in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province.

Afghan officials said demonstrators stormed the U.N. office during protests against the recent burning of the Quran by an American preacher in the southern U.S. state of Florida. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had condemned the Quran burning, and called on the United States to bring those responsible to justice.

On Friday, more than a thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Mazar-e-Sharif after Friday prayers. Afghan officials said the protest outside the U.N. mission began peacefully, but that some of the demonstrators overran the compound's security guards, killing them. Police say protesters then entered the building, setting it on fire, and beheading some of the U.N. workers inside.

Afghan officials said the dead included at least three Afghan protesters and five Nepalese U.N. guards.

The top U.N. official in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, was said to be heading to the northern city.

Demonstrations against the Quran burning were also held Friday in the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the western city of Herat, where protesters shouted anti-American slogans. No violence was reported.

In October of 2009, militants killed six U.N. employees during an attack at a guesthouse in Kabul.

President Karzai recently selected the relatively-peaceful city of Mazar-e-Sharif as one of seven areas slated to be transferred from NATO to Afghan security forces this year as part of the security transition.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.