Karzai accused of aggravating anti-US violence

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Afghanistan suffered a third day of violent demonstrations yesterday as President Hamid Karzai faced accusations he was fuelling the fury at recent burnings of the Koran in the United States.

At least 20 people have been killed - including seven UN employees - since the protests broke out on Friday.

Mr Karzai issued a fresh statement last night, demanding the US Congress condemn the pastor whose congregation doused a Koran in paraffin last month, and then filmed themselves setting it alight.

In a meeting with General David Petraeus, the commander of US and Nato forces, and the US ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, Mr Karzai called for American politicians to intervene.

Senior western officials said there was a growing sense of exasperation at Mr Karzai's handling of events. "Instead of trying to diffuse things, he is doing the opposite," said one European official.

President Barack Obama has denounced what he called the "intolerance" of burning sacred texts, but he stressed it was not an excuse for the violence engulfing Afghanistan.

Gen Petraeus and Nato's top civilian in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, issued a joint statement, reiterating their condemnation of the book-burning.

"We hope the Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the Holy Koran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people," the statement said.

However, it is difficult to overestimate the strength of feeling in Afghanistan, which has been amplified by recent photographs of US soldiers desecrating the dead bodies of civilians they murdered in cold blood. "America is turning the next generation of Afghans into Taleban," a 12-year-old school girl said.

Many people in Kabul misinterpret America's freedom- of-speech legislation which allowed the Florida church to burn Korans last month, as a government endorsement of the book-burning.