Afghan police open fire at demonstration

By Sardar Ahmad (AFP)

KABUL — Afghan police Monday opened fire and turned a water cannon on demonstrators angry about allegations that Western troops torched a Koran, wounding at least three people, officials and witnesses said.

Clashes erupted as police tried to prevent around 300 students, most of them men, from marching on parliament, the city’s criminal investigation police chief, Sayed Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, told AFP.

The UN mission in Kabul responded with an appeal for calm with a run-off presidential election less than a fortnight away.

“Police fired at the crowd, one bullet hit me. I was closing my shop at the time,” Sherullah, an 18-year-old man who suffered a bullet wound to his hip, said from his hospital bed.

“They (policemen) were just firing. They were firing at the people,” he said.

Sayedzada denied that police fired towards the crowd, saying they only aimed their guns in the air. They also used water cannon, the police chief added.

But a doctor at the emergency ward of Ibn Sina hospital said that at least three men suffering from “bullet wounds” had been admitted for treatment.

More than 15 police were also wounded in clashes between the angry mob and security forces, interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.

An AFP reporter at the scene saw about three dozen people, mainly young students, herded into a police vehicle and taken away.

“We were demonstrating, we wanted to protest the burning of Koran by the foreign forces but the police came and started beating us,” a young man, refusing to give his name, said from the back of a police vehicle.

Another man, one side of his face covered in blood, said: “They beat us up, they fired at the people.”

In a similar protest in Kabul on Sunday, demonstrators torched an effigy of US President Barack Obama and attacked police. Police responded by firing into the air to disperse the crowd.

The protests come amid a growing tide of resentment towards the presence of around 100,000 Western troops in Afghanistan trying to tame a raging Taliban insurgency.

Even Afghan President Hamid Karzai, brought to power after the toppling of the Taliban with US support, is souring towards his old allies.

“Is the United States a reliable partner with Afghanistan? Is the West a reliable partner with Afghanistan?” Karzai told CNN in an interview on Sunday.

“Have we received the commitments that we were given? Have we been treated like a partner?”

Haroun Mir, head of Afghanistan’s Centre for Research and Policy Studies, said the protests in Kabul appeared to have been well-organised and doubted they were simply spontaneous eruptions of anger.

“Getting people onto the streets in Afghanistan is very difficult, it takes quite some organising, especially two days in a row. Someone wants to send a message to the Afghan government and to coalition forces in Afghanistan,” Mir told AFP.

“People in Kabul have always been in favour of the coalition presence in Afghanistan. So this is not spontaneous by Kabuli people.

“If it continues for a few more days we will see that it is not spontaneous and there is some political agenda behind it. And then we will have a clearer idea of who is behind it and what political signal they want to send.”

The demonstrations have added to tension in the build-up to a run-off election between Karzai and his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah on November 7.

“We want to appeal for calm. We recognise that emotions are high but this issue needs to be resolved by talking not by resorting to violence,” Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN mission in Kabul, told AFP.

“There is nothing to indicate the demonstrations are politically motivated but we do need to recognise the constitutional right of people to demonstrate peacefully.”

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