Afghan riots over Quran-burning: 2 days, 20 dead

KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghans rioted for a second day Saturday to protest the burning of a Quran in Florida, killing nine people in Kandahar and injuring more than 80 in a wave of violence that underscored rising anti-foreign sentiment after nearly a decade of war.

The desecration at a small U.S. church has outraged Muslims worldwide, and in Afghanistan it further strained ties with the West. On Friday, 11 people were killed, including seven foreign U.N. employees, in a protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The protests come at a critical juncture as the U.S.-led coalition gears up for an insurgent spring offensive and a summer withdrawal of some troops, and with Afghanistan’s mercurial president increasingly questioning international motives and NATO’s military strategy.

Two suicide attackers disguised as women blew themselves up and a third was gunned down Saturday when they used force to try to enter a NATO base on the outskirts of Kabul, NATO and Afghan police said. Earlier in the week, six U.S. soldiers died during an operation against insurgents in eastern Afghanistan near Pakistan, where the Taliban retain safe havens.

President Hamid Karzai expressed regret for the 20 protest deaths, but he also further stoked possible anti-foreign sentiment by again demanding that the United States and United Nations bring to justice the pastor of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, where the Quran was burned March 20. Many Afghans did not know about the Quran-burning until Karzai condemned it four days after it happened.

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