Nine killed in Koran burning riot
Anger over the burning of the Muslim holy book at a church in the US has fuelled a second day of deadly violence in Afghanistan, where demonstrators set cars and shops on fire in a riot which left nine protesters dead.
The Florida church's desecration of the Koran nearly two weeks ago has outraged millions of Muslims and others worldwide, fuelling anti-American sentiment that is further straining ties between the Afghan government and the West.
The Koran was burned at the Dove Outreach Centre in Gainesville on March 20, but many Afghans only found out about it when President Hamid Karzai condemned the desecration four days later.
It was the same church where the Rev Terry Jones had threatened to destroy a copy of the holy book last year but initially backed down.
Hundreds of Afghans carrying sticks and holding copies of the Koran over their heads have marched through Kandahar, the largest city in southern Afghanistan and the cradle of the insurgency.
Security forces shot in the air to disperse the crowd, said Zalmai Ayubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor. It is unclear how the protesters died, he added.
The governor's office in Kandahar province issued a statement saying nine protesters were killed and 81 others were injured in the demonstration that turned into a riot. Seventeen people, including seven armed men, have been arrested, the statement said.
The governor's office claimed demonstrators were incited by extremists who joined the group and set property on fire.
"Some wicked and destructive people placed themselves amongst the protesters and started rioting throughout the entire Kandahar city," the governor's office said. "The enemies of the people and country also burned down the furniture and a bus at a ladies' high school in Kandahar and destroyed some other properties."
In Florida, Wayne Sapp, a pastor at the church, called the events "tragic" but said he did not regret the Koran burning. "I in no way feel like our church is responsible for what happened," he said.