UN Staff Killed In Afghanistan After Quran Burned

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Violence continues in Afghanistan in response to a Florida preacher's destruction of a Quran last month. Riots in the southern city of Kandahar have killed 9 people and wounded scores. Leaders around the world have condemned the violence in northern Afghanistan, where a crowd stormed the UN compound there on Friday, killing 7 international staff.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Violence continues today in Afghanistan in response to a Florida preacher's destruction of a Koran last month. Riots in the southern city of Kandahar have killed nine people. Leaders around the world have condemned the violence in northern Afghanistan yesterday, where a crowd stormed the U.N. compound there, killing seven international staff.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports from Kabul.

(Soundbite of people protesting)

QUIL LAWRENCE: Afghan television news broadcast footage of demonstrations in Kandahar with signs and slogans against America and the U.S.-supported Afghan government. Rioters burned cars and damaged buildings and also destroyed a high school for girls. Shots rang out across the city as security forces attempted to restore order.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

LAWRENCE: In a statement, the governor of Kandahar said the protest were against a stupid pastor in Florida, but they had turned violent because of enemies of Afghanistan in the crowd.

In the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, the United Nations special representative to Afghanistan, Staffan di Mistura, inspected the wreckage of the U.N. compound that was burned by angry demonstrators after prayers on Friday. Imams in the city had condemned the Koran burning and encouraged worshippers to take to the streets. The mob swelled and soon found a conspicuous western target in the nearby U.N. compound.

It's not clear whether some in the crowd carried weapons or if they took guns from the compound guards after overpowering them. Rioters shot to death four Nepalese U.N. guards and killed three others inside the building - a Norwegian national, a Swede and a Romanian, including one woman.

The Afghan government has blamed the Taliban for spurring the violence, but a spokesman for the insurgents said the riots were caused by the anger of the Afghan people.

In the past, even rumors of the desecration of a Koran, especially in Europe or America have spurred deadly riots here, causing a more serious reaction that even news stories about U.S. soldiers who deliberately killed Afghan civilians. Afghanistan is a deeply religious society, with laws against blasphemy or religious conversion that often carry a death sentence.

It's the deadliest attack on the United Nations here since 2009, when a team of suicide bombers raided a U.N. residence in Kabul, killing 11 people. At that time, the United Nations pulled out non-essential staff from Afghanistan. So far, there's no sign the U.N. will downsize, though all their institutions across the country are on security lockdown today, as violence continues.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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