At least six people have been killed amid ongoing violence over the improper disposal of Qurans at NATO's main base in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan -- The Taliban urged Afghans Thursday to target foreign military bases and kill Westerners in retaliation for burnings of copies of the Quran at NATO's main base in the country as a third day of violent protests began.
Thousands of demonstrators gathered across the country, some chanting "Death to America!", Reuters witnesses and officials said. In eastern Kabul, hundreds of youths threw rocks at police, who fired shots into the air to try disperse the crowds.
"Our brave people must target the military bases of invader forces, their military convoys and their invader bases," read an emailed Taliban statement released by the insurgency's spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid. "They have to kill them (Westerners), beat them and capture them to give them a lesson to never dare desecrate the holy Quran again."
However, provincial officials and police said Thursday that there were peaceful demonstrations in three eastern provinces to vent anger over the Quran burnings.
More than 2,000 people turned out at the biggest demonstration in the capital of eastern Laghman province, officials and police said.
Thousands of Afghans protested against the unintentional burning of Qurans and other Islamic religious materials during trash disposal at an American air base. NBC's Atia Abawi reports.
About 500 people protested in the Khoshi district of Logar province and the rally ended without incident. Hundreds also protested in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
On Wednesday, seven people were killed in clashes between Afghan security forces and protesters demonstrating over the Quran burnings.
'Take up jihad'
Most Westerners were already confined to their heavily fortified compounds, including within the sprawling U.S. Embassy complex and nearby embassies in central Kabul.
The Quran burnings could make it even more difficult for U.S.-led NATO forces to win the hearts and minds of Afghans and bring the Taliban to the negotiating table ahead of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.
Muslims consider the Quran the literal word of God and treat each book with deep reverence. Desecration is considered one of the worst forms of blasphemy.
Large protests erupted in eastern Laghman province and the eastern city of Jalalabad, despite an appeal by President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday for calm after officials said six people were shot dead and dozens wounded in demonstrations.
Protests also kicked off in the relatively stable northern provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar on the border with Tajikistan, as well as nearby Baghlan province
The fury could complicate efforts by U.S. and NATO forces to reach agreement on a strategic pact currently under consideration with the Afghan government that would allow a sharply reduced number of western troops in the country well beyond their combat exit deadline of end-2014.
Qais Usyan / AFP - Getty Images
More than a decade after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.
Underscoring these concerns, hundreds of students in Jalalabad rejected any strategic pact with the United States, saying they would "take up jihad" if one was sealed.
In the Khoshi district of eastern Logar province, around some 500 protesters rejected any strategic deal, while in restive Khost province hundreds more chanted "death to America" and "we don't want Americans in Afghanistan".
Afghanistan's coldest winter in years has claimed the lives of dozens of children. Many of the victims froze to death in makeshift camps full of families fleeing the fighting in Helmand Province. Their desperate situation is made worse by aid agencies unable to get supplies to help them. ITN's Emma Murphy visited one camp outside of Kabul.
The U.S. government and the American commander of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan apologized for "unintentional" burnings after Afghan laborers found charred copies of the Koran while collecting rubbish at the huge Bagram Airbase, about an hour's drive north of Kabul.
A report into the incident by NATO investigators and a team of senior Afghan clerics was to be handed to Karzai as soon as Thursday, making clear how the burning happened.
Martine van Bijlert, from the respected Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN), said the demonstrations were a combination of religious outrage, pent-up frustration over economic and security conditions, and groups wanting to stir trouble.
"There have been different kinds of outrage. One is the bewilderment felt by many Afghans, and foreigners, that after ten years of efforts in Afghanistan there was apparently still no understanding of how inflammatory mistakes like that are made," van Bijlert said on the AAN website.
"Second, there is the pent-up anger and frustration, with the international military, but also with life in general."
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Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.