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Protests in Kandahar city over burning of Qur'an kill 9, injure 81

At least nine people were killed and dozens more injured Saturday after outrage over the burning of the Muslim holy book fuelled a second day of bloody riots in Afghanistan, this time in the spiritual homeland of the Taliban.

About 100 people gathered Saturday morning in Kandahar city to vent their anger over the burning of the Qur’an by a pastor at a small Florida church last month.

The demonstration later grew and erupted into violence when men wielding sticks marched through the streets, setting cars ablaze and burning down shops as the crackle of gunfire rang out in the city, the second largest in the country.

“We are standing with the Taliban shoulder-to-shoulder because the infidels are against Islam,” said Havi Atta Muhammad, an Afghan who took part in the protest.

“They’re not here for help or any sort of development.”

Haji Lali said Afghans were united in their opposition to those who desecrate the Qur’an.

“We are all Afghans and stand against infidels,” Lali said.

“I have seen the bravery of Afghans today.”

Tooryalai Wesa, the Afghan-Canadian governor of Kandahar, lashed out at those who took part in the deadly riots.

“Some wicked and destructive people placed themselves amongst the protesters,” Wesa’s office said in a statement.

Tooryalai Wesa also condemned the burning of the Qur’an as an “abhorrent move” by “a stupid pastor.”

His office said at least 81 people were wounded in the Kandahar melee and that Afghan National Security Forces arrested 17 people.

A federal official at Camp Nathan Smith, the provincial reconstruction centre in Kandahar city, said all Canadians have been accounted for.

Task Force Kandahar said it restricted transit through the city by its military and civilian personnel but its routine operations were not affected.

The burning of the Qur’an occurred March 20, but many Afghans only found out about it when President Hamid Karzai condemned the act this week.

That triggered mass protests Friday in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where four Afghans and seven foreigners were killed after protesters stormed a United Nations compound.

Up until then, Mazar-e-Sharif was considered a relatively safe city — so much so that Karzai announced last month that it would be among the first areas in the country where Afghan forces would be responsible for security in July.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay also visited that city two weeks ago while on a reconnaissance mission of sorts as the federal government prepares to announce details of Operation Attention, Canada’s training mission.

MacKay said Mazar-e-Sharif was one of several places where Canadians could be based as part of that mission, which is set to begin once combat operations wind down in July.

Up to 950 troops and support staff will remain in Afghanistan on the training mission until 2014.

With files from A.R. Khan