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KABUL, Afghanistan — The potential scope of the fallout from the burning of several copies of the Quran by U.S. military personnel this week became chillingly clear on Thursday as an Afghan army soldier turned his gun on NATO troops, killing two, while a crowd nearby protested the desecration of the Muslim holy book.

A third day of demonstrations over the Quran burning episode turned violent on Thursday, with seven Afghans killed in three provinces and many more injured, most in skirmishes with Afghan security forces.

The Afghan government, which had responded slowly on the first day of protests, was in high gear on Thursday as officials tried to tamp down emotions ahead of the Friday holiday. Western and Afghan government authorities feared there could be emotional demonstrations after the midday prayer, which the Taliban and extremist elements would try to exploit.

Afghan officials released a letter from President Barack Obama in which he, among other things, apologized for the Quran burning.

“The president said that ‚Äòaccording to our investigation we have found that American soldiers mistakenly insulted the Quran and we will accept their apology,”’ said Fatima Aziz, a lawmaker from Kunduz who attended the meeting.

“He said, ‘Whoever did this should be punished and they should avoid its repetition. Insulting holy books and religion is not acceptable at all.’”

For President Hamid Karzai, the episode has fast become a political thicket. He and other government officials share with the Afghan populace a visceral disgust for the way U.S. soldiers treated the holy book, but they recognize that violent protests could draw lethal responses from the police or soldiers, setting off a cycle of violence.

Four Afghan civilians were killed on Thursday in confrontations with the Afghan police during protests in two towns in Oruzgan province.

One person was killed in a confrontation with police in Baghlan province. In Nangarhar province, two Afghans, ages 18 and 20, who were protesting the Quran burning, were shot to death outside a U.S. base in Khogyani District, according to Mujib Rahman, the doctor on duty at the hospital in the district center.

About the same time as the protest and the shootings outside the base, an Afghan army soldier turned his gun on NATO soldiers at the base, according to other protesters and elders. Two NATO soldiers were killed in the attack.