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French Afghan withdrawal would concern few staff

PARIS (Reuters) - France's preparations to withdraw non-military personnel from Afghanistan due to violent protests over the burning of the Koran at a U.S. military base should concern only a couple of dozen people, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.

France has condemned attacks over the Koran desecration that have killed more than 30 people and said on Sunday it was making arrangements to pull out French nationals working as advisers supporting the rebuilding of public institutions.

Originally seen affecting several hundred people, the measures would in fact only concern around two dozen people, the spokesman said. He could not say where in Afghanistan they were located or in what time frame they could be repatriated.

French military would not be affected, and the staff departures could be halted depending on the security situation.

A suicide car bomber killed at least nine people in an attack on a military airport in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, the latest incident since copies of the Koran were burned at a NATO base last week. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack as "revenge" for the Koran burning.

France has 3,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the 130,000-strong NATO-led force, mainly patrolling Kapisa, a mountainous province near Kabul. They are to shift their focus in March to training and leave the country at the end of 2013.

(Reporting By Catherine Bremer; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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