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Obama calls killings in Afghanistan outrageous

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Saturday the killings in Afghanistan after a fundamentalist Christian U.S. preacher burned a Koran were "outrageous" while calling the desecration of the holy text an act of bigotry.

"The desecration of any holy text, including the Koran, is an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

"However, to attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity," he said.

At least 10 people have been killed and 83 wounded in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, officials said on Saturday, on a second day of violent protests over the actions of extremist Christian preacher Terry Jones, who supervised the burning of the Koran in front of about 50 people at a church in Florida on March 20, according to his website.

A suicide attack also hit a NATO military base in the capital Kabul, the day after protesters overran a U.N. mission in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and killed seven foreign staff in the deadliest attack on the U.N. in Afghanistan.

"No religion tolerates the slaughter and beheading of innocent people, and there is no justification for such a dishonorable and deplorable act," Obama said.

"Now is a time to draw upon the common humanity that we share, and that was so exemplified by the U.N. workers who lost their lives trying to help the people of Afghanistan."

Obama did not mention Jones by name in his statement.

JONES UNREPENTANT

In an interview with Reuters at the tiny church he leads in Gainesville, Florida, Jones was unrepentant and vowed to lead an anti-Islam demonstration later this month in front of the largest mosque in the United States, located in Dearborn, Michigan.

Last year, Jones threatened to burn a Koran but did not end up following through at that time. His threat last year came amid controversy over plans by Muslim leaders seeking to build an Islamic center and mosque near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York.

Obama appealed to Americans then to respect religious freedom while warning that burning the Koran would endanger U.S. troops abroad.

The recent burning initially passed relatively unnoticed in Afghanistan, but after criticism from President Hamid Karzai, and calls for justice during Friday sermons, thousands poured into the streets in several cities to denounce Jones.

The United States has said it would help the United Nations in any way after the attack.

Obama said in his statement that the American people honor the people killed in the attack on the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif.

"Once again, we extend our deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and to the people of the nations that they came from."

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Will Dunham)

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