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Afghans Claim Foreign Troops Fired on Demonstration

VOA News 12 January 2010

Local people in southern Afghanistan say foreign troops have opened fire on a demonstration, wounding several people.

NATO acknowledged troops were present at the gathering Tuesday in Helmand province's Garmsir district, but said an insurgent sniper was firing on the crowd. The alliance said its troops identified and killed the gunman.

A NATO statement said there were no other injuries or shots fired.

Also in Helmand, a NATO statement says two drone strikes killed 16 suspected militants in the Now Zad area on Monday. Officials said one missile hit a safe house where a large number of insurgents were preparing ammunition. A second strike killed three armed fighters in Nad Ali district.

NATO forces say no civilians were harmed in any of the operations.

Strikes by unmanned drones are rare in Afghanistan, where foreign troops have come under harsh criticism for inflicting civilian casualties. The drones are more commonly used in Pakistan's Taliban dominated tribal areas, but are not officially acknowledged by the Untied States.

Tuesday's protest in Garmsir was against the alleged desecration of a Koran by NATO forces during a raid in the area earlier in the week. A NATO statement denied the allegations, but said it takes them very seriously and supports a combined investigation into the matter with local Afghan authorities. The statement said military officers in Garmsir will participate in a meeting with the district governor and chief of police.

The NATO statement said the Koran desecration allegations appear to be from a raid on Sunday, when Afghan forces conducted the operation in Garmsir, supported by coalition troops. The statement said no shots were fired, no property was damaged and no one was detained.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.

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