Afghan protestors walk with sticks, as they carry a wounded colleague during a demonstration to condemn the burning of a copy of the Muslim holy book by a US Florida pastor, in Kandahar.—AP

KANDAHAR: Ten people died Saturday in new protests against a Quran burning in the US, a day after seven UN staff were killed by a mob in the worst attack on the world body in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion.

The fresh protests began in the centre of the main southern city of Kandahar and spread as police clashed with crowds marching towards the UN offices and provincial administration headquarters, witnesses said.

Police had fired into the air to try to deter thousands of protesters heading towards the buildings, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Smoke was rising from different parts of the city as protesters burned cars and tyres.

The provincial authorities said the protesters had damaged government and private buildings and torched vehicles.

Daud Farhad, a senior doctor in the city's main hospital, told AFP the death toll had risen to 10.

About 83 others were injured, including two members of the Afghan security forces, he said.

Provincial authorities had earlier given a toll of nine dead and 73 injured.

Kandahar is the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, who have fought an insurgency against President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul and its Western allies since they were ousted by the US-led invasion.

“Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” chanted the demonstrators. “They have insulted our Quran,” shouted one.

An AFP reporter saw two unidentified bodies being removed by demonstrators in Chawk Saheedan, a central location where the protests started.

Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial administration, told AFP a bus and a girls' school had also been set ablaze.

He said that “destructive elements have entered the crowds and are trying to turn it violent”. Ayoubi added that all the dead and injured were protestors.

The administration said 16 people, seven of them armed, had been arrested.

The protest came a day after seven UN foreign staff —three Europeans and four Nepalese guards —were killed during similar demonstrations in the normally relatively calm northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Mazar-i-Sharif violence following a battle lasting more than three hours in which part of the UN compound was burned down amid small-arms fire and explosions.

US President Barack Obama condemned the attack while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said it was “an outrageous and cowardly attack”.

Karzai telephoned Ban on Saturday to expresses his sorrow over the incident, the president's office said.

The UN did not announce the nationalities of the three civilian staff killed. But Sweden named one as 33-year-old Swede, Joakim Dungel.

Norway said Lieutenant Colonel Siri Skare, a 53-year-old female pilot, was killed. Diplomats said the third was a Romanian.

The attackers broke away from a large demonstration in the city against the burning of a Quran, Islam's holy book, at an evangelical church in Florida.

“Some of them were clearly armed and they stormed into the building” and set it on fire, UN peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy told reporters after briefing the Security Council at UN headquarters in New York.

“The security guards, who were the Gurkhas, tried their best but the number was so high that they were not able to prevent it.”

He denied reports that two of the dead were beheaded but said one victim had his throat cut.

UN officials said the Gurkhas, security mainstays in many world trouble spots, were believed to have killed a number of assailants before they were overcome.

Balkh provincial governor Atta Mohammad Noor said five other people, thought to be protesters, were killed while at least 20 people were wounded in the fighting. About 20 people were arrested, he said.

Hundreds of people had taken to the streets of Mazar-i-Sharif to protest against last month's Quran burning, and local police spokesman Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai said Taliban militants had infiltrated the demonstrators.

Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, and a top peacekeeping official had left for Afghanistan to conduct a review of security at UN facilities, Le Roy said.

The 15-nation UN Security Council held a special meeting on the incident, calling on the Afghan government to step up protection for UN workers.

Friday's attack was the worst suffered by the world body since a bomb blast at the UN compound in Algiers in 2007 in which 17 staff died.

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