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France, Germany withdraw civilian staff from Afghanistan

27 February, 2012

PARIS/BERLIN/KABUL: France is withdrawing its non-military personnel from Afghanistan, where protests over the desecration of the Holy Quran at a Nato military base have killed 30 people, including two US army officers, a spokesman said on Sunday.

France condemned the fatal shooting of the two Americans and said its ambassador in Afghanistan was making arrangements to pull out French nationals working as advisers supporting the rebuilding of public institutions.

A foreign ministry spokesman said several hundred people would be concerned, but their actual departure could be halted depending on developments on the ground. French military would not be affected, he said.

Nato and Britain said on Saturday they were pulling staff out of Afghan government institutions after the killing of the US advisers. Meanwhile, Germany said it had withdrawn its national and international staff from Afghan ministries after the killing of US advisers.

"The Risk Management Office on Sunday morning ordered its German and international experts in agencies and ministries to be withdrawn" in the Kabul area, the cooperation ministry said in a statement.

The decision was a "reasonable precautionary measure", Cooperation Minister Dirk Niebel said adding that the experts' security was a top priority. Niebel stressed however that Germany would stick to the commitments made in the Afghan conflict. "As soon as the situation has calmed down the staff will resume their work," he said.

Meanwhile, a protester was killed and seven US soldiers were wounded in a grenade attack on their base in a sixth day of anti-American protests on Sunday, police said, as President Hamid Karzai called for calm.

The latest violence came as police hunted an intelligence official suspected of killing two US officers at the interior ministry on Saturday which led to Nato pulling all its advisers out of government ministries.

"The demonstrators hurled a hand grenade at US special forces base in Imam Sahib town of Kunduz province. As a result seven US special forces were wounded," Kunduz police spokesman Sayed Sarwar Hussaini told AFP.

A spokesman for US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan said: "According to initial reports, an explosion occurred outside of an Isaf installation in northern Afghanistan early this afternoon (Sunday)."

He said officials of Isaf were "gathering details at this time", adding that more information could be released later. Local officials said one person was killed in the anti-US demonstration in Imam Sahib as some 2,000 anti-US protesters tried to march on the provincial capital but were stopped by police.

"One dead and seven wounded protesters have been brought to hospital from Imam Sahib district so far," said hospital official Mohammadullah. In the neighbouring province of Samangan, two protesters were wounded during a one-hour demonstration in Aybak city, provincial governor Khairullah Anosh told AFP, but there were no reports of unrest elsewhere in Afghanistan.

The latest death brings the total toll in six days of demonstrations since the desecration of the Holy Quran at the Bagram airbase to more than 30.

President Karzai went on television Sunday to appeal for calm. Karzai "condemned with the strongest words" the treatment of Islam's holy book and said the perpetrators should be punished, but told his countrymen: "Now that we have shown our feelings it is time to be calm and peaceful."

He said he respected the emotions of Afghans upset by the desecration of the Holy Quran, but urged them not to let "the enemies of Afghanistan misuse their feelings". Taliban insurgents have called on Afghans to kill foreign troops in revenge for the incident, and claimed to have been behind the shooting deaths of the two US advisers in the interior ministry in Kabul.

Karzai said in response to a question that "we feel sorry for what happened", but added that it was not yet known whether the shooter was an Afghan or a foreigner. However, government sources said police were hunting for an Afghan intelligence official suspected of the shooting.

"A police officer who worked for the intelligence department of the ministry of interior has disappeared officials believe he is the suspect, and they are looking for him," an official in the ministry told AFP.

Local television quoted a source as naming the suspect as 25-year-old Abdul Saboor, who had studied in Pakistan and joined the ministry as a driver in 2007 before being promoted. He had signed into the ministry on Saturday before disappearing. The two US officers were found dead in their office with gunshot wounds.

Nato has advisers throughout the Afghan government but commanding officer General John Allen ordered them all to be withdrawn. "Despite being pulled from the ministries, the military advisers remained in contact with ministry personnel," a spokesman for Isaf, Lt Col Jimmie Cummings, said Sunday.

"We will not let this incident divide the coalition," he said on Isaf's Twitter feed. US President Barack Obama backed steps by Nato's commander in Afghanistan to protect US service members there after the killing of two US officers, and welcomed President Hamid Karzai's call for calm, the White House said.

Obama spoke to John Allen after Nato withdrew all staff working in Afghan ministries following the attack. "We welcome President Karzai's statement this morning encouraging peaceful expressions, and his call for dialogue and calm," the White House said in a statement. "The United States remains committed to a partnership with the government and people of Afghanistan."

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that deadly protests in Afghanistan "must stop". "We deeply regret the incident that has led to this protest, but we also believe that violence must stop and the hard work for building a more peaceful and secure Afghanistan must continue," she told a news conference during a visit to the Moroccan capital Rabat.

In an interview with CNN, Clinton said criticism of President Barack Obama's apology for the desecration of the Holy Quran was not helpful. "I find it somewhat troubling that our politics would inflame such a dangerous situation in Afghanistan," Clinton said of the complaints by Republican presidential candidates and some experts about Obama's apology. "It was the right thing to do to have our president on record as saying this was not intentional, we deeply regret it," Clinton said.


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