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Seven die in Koran burning protests

Seven people have been killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters demonstrating against the burning of Muslim holy books at a Nato military base.

The anger over the Koran burning has sparked two days of protests across Afghanistan and tapped into anti-foreign sentiment fuelled by a popular perception that foreign troops disrespect Afghan culture and Islam.

The demonstrations prompted the US to lock down its embassy and bar its staff from travelling.

The Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement that clashes during a protest in the eastern province of Parwan left four people dead. It said an investigation was under way to determine what happened.

The other deaths occurred at a US base outside Kabul, where security guards killed one person, and in Jalalabad and Logar province, the ministry said.

The demonstration in Kabul drew thousands of protesters, who chanted "Death to America", hurled rocks and set tyres alight outside a complex that is home to foreign contractors, police and some coalition military forces.

Nearby, angry demonstrators set a fuel truck ablaze on a main highway running east out of the city, sending black smoke billowing into the air.

The US apologised for burning the copies of the Koran, which had been pulled from the shelves of the Parwan Detention Facility, adjoining Bagram Air Field, because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions.

US General John Allen, the top commander of American and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said the books had been mistakenly given to troops to be burned at a garbage pit without realising it. He said: "It was not a decision that was made with respect to the faith of Islam. It was a mistake. It was an error. The moment we found out about it we immediately stopped and we intervened."

A Western military official with knowledge of the incident said it appeared that the copies of the Koran and other Islamic readings in the library were being used to fuel extremism, and that detainees were writing on the documents to exchange extremist messages.

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