Thursday, April 14, 2011

Burning Rage

At least 21 people died in Afghanistan during three days of protests over one Florida pastor’s bizarre Quran-burning ceremony, and a top U.S. general warned that the fallout could pose fresh dangers for American-led war efforts in the country.

Thousands of protesters mobbed a UN compound in Mazar-e-Sharif on April 1, protesting the March 20 Quran-burning by Terry Jones, the leader of Dove World Outreach Center—a small, independent church in Gainesville, Fla. The Afghan mob killed three UN workers—a Swede, a Romanian, and a Norwegian—and four Nepalese security guards. Protests continued in cities across Afghanistan, killing 14 Afghans, including a child.

The demonstrations—which included burning effigies of President Barack Obama and shouts of “Death to America”—erupted less than a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the Florida Quran-burning as a “crime against religion” and called on the United States to punish the pastor responsible. Jones, who had threatened to burn a Quran in a public event last September, led his church in a five-hour mock trial of the Islamic holy book on March 20 that culminated with burning the Quran.

The violent reaction in Afghanistan prompted U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, leader of coalition forces, to warn that Jones’ actions endangered U.S. efforts by inflaming Afghan crowds. Obama called the burning “an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry,” but added that “to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity.”

Jones condemned the attacks and called on the United States to hold the offenders accountable. His statement didn’t acknowledge his Quran-burning ceremony or address criticism from many—including Christians—who opposed his provocative act. Meanwhile, Karzai offered condolences for the dead UN workers, but didn’t condemn the rioters responsible for the murders.

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