HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A protest over the shooting of the Koran by a U.S. soldier in Iraq turned violent in Afghanistan on Thursday, killing a Lithuanian soldier and at least two Afghan civilians.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said Afghan police killed the two civilians and wounded seven others after a rock-throwing crowd tried to storm a base in the town of Chaghcharan.
Police spokesman Abdul Mutalib said three civilians were killed in the incident.
The soldier was killed by gunfire, but it was not clear if the shots came from the crowd or from Taliban insurgents, an ISAF spokesman said. There were no indications that it was the result of so-called friendly fire.
The dead soldier was a Lithuanian from the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Chaghcharan, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said. One other soldier was wounded, ISAF said.
“Protesters set on fire a fuel station opposite the PRT base before trying to storm it,” General Ikramuddin Yawar, chief of police in western Afghanistan, told reporters.
He said 12 protesters and 11 police were wounded by gunfire and soldiers from the PRT fired into the crowd after some of the protesters fired at police and the base.
The protest was organized by students from a religious school, and the situation was now under control, Yawar said.
Lithuania’s Defense Minister Juozas Olekas said in Vilnius that shots were fired from the crowd, which attempted to enter the camp, and the Lithuanian soldier was shot dead.
“Lithuanian soldiers shot in the air to disperse the crowd,” the minister said, when asked, whether Lithuanian troops shot back at the crowd.
Two other Lithuanian soldiers suffered minor injuries after being hit by rocks thrown from the crowd, he added.
Olekas said the incident would not make Lithuania withdraw its 170 troops from Afghanistan.
U.S. President George W. Bush apologized to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki this week and promised to prosecute the U.S. soldier accused of using a copy of the Koran for target practice, Iraq said.
A U.S. soldier was disciplined and sent home after a bullet-riddled copy of the Muslim holy book was found at a shooting range near Baghdad on May 11. No violent backlash has taken place in Iraq.
Protests over perceived insults to Islam have often turned violent in Afghanistan, where a deeply conservative faith is mingled with resentment at the presence of foreign troops.
More than 50,000 international forces are stationed in Afghanistan fighting a Taliban insurgency aimed at toppling the pro-Western Afghan government.
Writing by Jon Hemming; Additional reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis in Vilnius; Editing by Giles Elgood