Hundreds of Afghans stage anti-US protest

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KHOST, Afghanistan, Oct 17 (Reuters) Hundreds of Afghans staged a protest against the United States today, saying US troops had thrown a copy of the Koran during an operation in the southeast, a police officer said.

A US-led coalition spokesman said he had no knowledge of the reported desecration in Paktika province, but added investigators found no truth to a similar allegation against soldiers in eastern Kunar province last week.

The protests come as anti-US sentiments are running high in parts of Afghanistan following the deaths of more than 370 civilians this year during operations by Western troops stationed in the country.

The protest today was held in Urgun district of Paktika province, part of the main bastion for resurgent Taliban near the border with neighbouring Pakistan, a district police chief said.

Protesters said US troops broke into a house on Monday night in Urgun, arrested four people, including a woman, and one soldier threw away a copy of the Koran, Nawar Khan told Reuters.

''We have began an investigation into the villagers' reports about the arrests...and throwing of Koran,'' Khan said.

Another provincial official said the arrested people were Taliban.

A similar protest was held in the eastern province of Kunar where villagers and several lawmakers say US soldiers desecrated the Koran last week.

But the coalition said its investigation into the allegation found the report to be untrue.

''The coalition force in this incident did not desecrate any religious articles. We respect all religions and treat their holy articles with the respect they deserve,'' Major Chris Belcher, coalition spokesman said.

REUTERS PD HT1930

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