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First blood spilt in row over plan to burn Koran

A protester was shot dead and at least 11 others were injured in Afghanistan yesterday as rallies against the plan by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran — apparently now abandoned — turned violent.

The bloodshed in Afghanistan followed in protests outside Nato bases in Badakshan and Farah provinces. Afghan policemen were also hurt after a peaceful demonstration in Faizabad, the capital of Badakshan, became a violent assault by hundreds of young men on a German Nato base.

The violence is the latest grim result of pastor Terry Jones' scheme, apparently now abandoned, to make a bonfire of hundreds of Korans to mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11.

Today that controversy will collide with the ongoing row over a proposed mosque near to Ground Zero as Mr Jones heads to the city, purportedly to meet the imam behind the project, on the same day that relatives of victims try respectfully to mark the anniversary of the terror attacks.

As the temperature rose yesterday in advance of that clash, President Barack Obama made a plea for calm.

“We have to make sure we don't start turning on each other,” he told reporters. “It is absolutely important now for the overwhelming majority of American people to hang on to that thing that is best in us; that is our belief in religious tolerance, our clarity about who our enemies are.”

The now familiar rituals of remembrance will proceed as usual, led by the President at the Pentagon.

But all may be drowned out by the roar of the maddening squabbles around the Koran-burnings and the mosque.

While it seems the torching of the books is off, the violence in Afghanistan suggested that his actions have already done fresh damage to relations.

“The holy book is implanted in the hearts and minds of all the Muslims,” President Hamid Karzai said last night. “Humiliation of the holy book represents the humiliation of our people.”

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, senior cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers attending Friday morning prayers that whether or not he burns the Koran, Mr Jones had already “hurt the heart of the Muslim world”.

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