Several killed as Afghan protesters, angry over truck bomb, clash with police
The violent protests added to pressure on President Ashraf Ghani’s fragile and divided government, which has been powerless to stop a string of attacks in the capital that have killed hundreds of civilians over recent months.
Wednesday’s bomb attack, at the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, was one of the worst in Kabul since the U.S.-led campaign to topple the Taliban in 2001.
More than 1,000 demonstrators, many carrying pictures of bomb victims, rallied in the morning near the site of the blast, which killed more than 80 people and wounded 460, holding Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah responsible.
“The international community has to put pressure on them and force them to resign,” said Niloofar Nilgoon, one of a relatively large number of women taking part in the protest.
“They’re not capable of leading the country.”
Riot police used water cannon and tear gas to block protesters from reaching the road leading to the presidential palace and there were regular bursts of gunfire as they fired over the heads of the crowd, many of whom threw stones at security forces.
By mid-afternoon at least four people had been killed and several wounded, an official at the city’s Italian-run Emergency Hospital said. The bodies of some of the dead, wrapped in white shrouds, were carried by protesters.
A statement from Ghani’s office repeated condemnation of Wednesday’s attack and urged demonstrators not to allow “opportunists to disrupt their civic movement and use this opportunity to sow chaos for their own benefit.
But in an already tense political climate, the violence underlined the risk of protests exacerbating divisions between ethnic and political groups within the government camp.
Amnesty International condemned the security forces’ actions which it said showed “contempt for the lives of ordinary people”.
“While there are reports that a minority of protesters used violence, including throwing stones at the police, this does not justify such an excessive and deadly response,” it said.
As well as criticizing the government, some protesters demanded that Ghani execute prisoners from the Haqqani network, the Taliban-affiliated militant group that intelligence officials blame for the attack.
“Until we do that, we won’t have peace. The only way to get security is to punish criminals,” said protester Asadullah, who like many Afghans goes by only one name.
However, most of the anger appeared directed against the Western-backed government, underlining growing impatience with its failure to ensure security almost three years after most foreign troops left Afghanistan.
“Ghani! Abdullah! Resign! Resign!” read one banner which also had pictures of bloodstained children.
The unrest and the increasingly fractured political landscape complicates the choice facing U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration as it prepares its new strategy for Afghanistan.
Officials are considering plans to increase the number of American troops in the country by between 3,000 and 5,000 to help break what U.S. commanders say is a stalemate in the war.
Taliban insurgents now control or contest about 40 percent of the country. Even before the attack, 715 civilians had been killed in the first three months of the year after nearly 3,500 in 2016, the deadliest year on record for Afghan civilians. –Reuters