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Afghan president renews call for calm

(AP) / 26 February 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s president renewed his calls for calm on Sunday in a televised address to the nation after the burning of copies of Holy Quran at a US base sparked five days of deadly protests.

About 30 people have been killed, including four US soldiers, since the incident came to light Tuesday. NATO and the British government recalled their international advisers from Afghan ministries late Saturday after two US military advisers — a lieutenant colonel and a major — were found dead in their office with shots to the back of their heads.

“Now is the time to return to calm and not let our enemies use this situation,” Karzai said. Asked about the unprecedented recall of NATO staff, Karzai said it was an understandable step.

“It is a temporary step at a time when the people of Afghanistan are angry over the burning of copies of the Holy Quran,” Karzai said. “We are not against this,” he added.

It is still unclear who shot the men inside a heavily secured wing of the Interior Ministry, or if the attacker had been apprehended. The Afghan media reported that it was a police intelligence officer, without citing a source. Karzai said much was still unknown.

“Who has done this, and whether he is an Afghan or a foreigner, we do not know. We are saddened by the incident and express our condolences to their families,” he said. The Taleban claimed that the shooter was one of their sympathizers and that an accomplice had helped him get into the compound to kill the Americans in retaliation for the burnings of copies of the Holy Quran.

Members of the international military coalition described the removal of advisers as a temporary security measure, stressing that they did not expect it to affect partnerships with the Afghans that are key to preparing the country’s security forces to take on more responsibility as international troops draw down.

“We can confirm that as a temporary measure, the British embassy has withdrawn civilian mentors and advisers from institutions within Kabul and that we’re keeping the situation under review,” said Catherine Arnold, a spokeswoman for the British Embassy. She declined to say how many people were affected by the decision.

The NATO recall affects advisers numbered “in the low hundreds,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie Cummings, a spokesman for the international force.

The US government had already ordered its government advisers to stay inside the secure embassy compound earlier in the week out of fear of retribution, said Gavin Sundwall, a US Embassy spokesman.

Karzai’s appeal came as the protests appeared to be dying down on their own. There were no reports of violent demonstrations as of midday on Sunday.

It would be the first day of calm since Tuesday, when it first emerged that Holy Quran and other religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large US base north of Kabul.

President Barack Obama and other US officials have apologized for what they said was a mistake, but their regrets did not quell the protests.

During protests on Thursday, an Afghan soldier turned his gun on foreign troops, killing two American soldiers, during a riot outside a US base in Nangarhar province.

This shooting and Saturday’s at the Interior Ministry were the latest in a rising number of incidents where Afghan soldiers or policemen, or gunmen wearing their uniforms, have killed NATO forces. Last month, France suspended its training program and threatened to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan a year ahead of schedule after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French soldiers on a base in the east.

 
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