updated 5/22/2008 11:16:57 AM ET 2008-05-22T15:16:57

One NATO soldier and two Afghan civilians were killed Thursday when protests in Afghanistan over the shooting of a Quran by a U.S. soldier turned violent, officials said.

NATO spokesman Maj. Martin O'Donnell said demonstrators were protesting near a military airfield in western Ghor province and began to throw rocks and set tents on fire.

Police opened fire on demonstrators when the protest became violent, killing two civilians and wounding seven others, he said.

Gunfire killed one NATO soldier and wounded another, but it was not clear who shot at them, O'Donnell said.

"We don't know if it was one of the protesters, an insurgent among the protesters or an insurgent sniper outside the protest. We have no indication that it was the Afghan National Police," O'Donnell told The Associated Press.

Ghor provincial police chief Shah Jahan Noori said about 1,000 demonstrators had gathered to protest the Quran shooting in Iraq.

'Death to America'
"Among these people were rebels, who opened fire," Noori said, adding that 10 policemen were also wounded.

Provincial council member Ahmad Khan Rahimi was among the protesters and estimated the crowd at 2,000 people. He said they chanted "Death to America" and "America is against Islam."

The U.S. military said Sunday it had disciplined the sniper and removed him from Iraq after he was found to have used Islam's holy book for target practice May 9.

President Bush apologized to Iraq's prime minister for the incident in the latest of a string of statements by U.S. officials trying to soothe anger over the shooting of Islam's holy book.

Similar perceived insults against Islam have sparked violent protests around the world.

At least 11 Afghans were killed in 2006 during protests over the contentious Prophet Muhammad cartoons published in Denmark.

Afghanistan is a Muslim nation where blasphemy of Muhammad and the Quran is considered a serious crime that carries the death sentence.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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