U.S. lawmakers said Sunday they would consider a request by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to formally condemn a Florida pastor's decision to burn the Koran, after the act triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan.
The protests entered their third day Sunday as demonstrators battled police in the southern city of Kandahar and, in the eastern city of Jalalabad, blocked a highway and burned an effigy of President Obama.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid repudiated pastor Terry Jones for touching off the chaos with what he called a "publicity stunt." Jones had earlier threatened to burn the Koran, but then shelved the plan until last month. The burning attracted little U.S. attention at the time but was used as a rallying cry in Afghanistan.
"This was an effort to get some publicity for him. He got it. But in the process, 10-20 people have been killed," Reid said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Asked whether Congress could pass a resolution condemning it, he said, "We'll take a look at this."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., suggested Congress should condemn the burning, but also stressed that one pastor's actions should not excuse the subsequent killings.
"Burning a Koran is a terrible thing, but it doesn't justify killing someone. Burning a Bible would be a terrible thing, but it wouldn't justify murder," he said. "But having said that, any time we can push back here in America against actions like this that put our troops at risk, we ought to do it."
Obama had a similar message, saying in a written statement that Jones' actions marked "an act of extreme intolerance and bigotry," but that the violence must stop.
"To attack and kill innocent people in response is outrageous, and an affront to human decency and dignity," Obama said.
The violence started Friday, when demonstrators in the previously peaceful northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif poured into the streets after Friday prayers and overran a U.N. compound, killing three U.N. staff members and four Nepalese guards.
On Saturday, hundreds of Afghans holding copies of the Koran over their heads marched in Kandahar before starting to attack cars and businesses. Security forces opened fire and nine protesters were killed, but the governor of Kandahar said officers had only fired into the air. He said 81 were wounded and 17 people, including seven armed men, had been arrested.
Military commander Gen. David Petraeus and the top NATO civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said that they "hope the Afghan people understand that the actions of a small number of individuals, who have been extremely disrespectful to the Holy Koran, are not representative of any of the countries of the international community who are in Afghanistan to help the Afghan people."
The Taliban said in a statement emailed to media outlets that the U.S. and other Western countries had wrongly excused the burning of the Koran on March 20 as freedom of speech and that Afghans "cannot accept this un-Islamic act."
"Afghan forces under the order of the foreign forces attacked unarmed people during the protests, killing them and arresting some, saying there were armed people among these protesters, which was not true," the Taliban said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.