WASHINGTON - Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, a hardliner, has sharply denounced President Barack Obama’s apology to Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the burning of holy Quran at a US military base.

“It is an outrage that on the day an Afghan soldier murders two American troops, President Obama is the one apologizing,” the former speaker said in a statement. “It is Hamid Karzai who owes the American people an apology, not the other way around,” the statement said.

The incident at Bagram Air Base triggered a violent response from Afghans, with 15 dead over three days of protests. Two American soldiers were shot dead when an Afghan soldier turned his weapon on them at their base in Khogyani in eastern Nangarhar province.

Ahead of Gingrich’s vitriolic comment, Obama spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One that the apology was “wholly appropriate, given the sensitivities to this issue, the understandable sensitivities.  Is Obama’s primary concern as Commander-in-Chief is the safety of American men and women in Afghanistan, of our military and civilian personnel there,” said Carney. “And it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Asked whether Obama was concerned that Republicans might seize on the letter to reinforce their charges that Obama too-easily apologizes for the United States, Carney replied: “That’s a fully false, fallacious and ridiculous narrative that is not borne out by any facts.”