Stephen Graham / The Canadian Press – 2005-05-16 08:29:16
KABUL (May 15, 2005) — At least three more anti-US protesters were killed Thursday in clashes with police, officials said, as rage at reported abuse of Islam’s holy book at the US jail in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, spread across the country.
In the capital, Kabul, students burned an American flag, while mobs attacked a government outpost and the offices of two international relief organizations just to the south, injuring one aid worker and leaving a trail of destruction, officials said.
The unrest came a day after riots in the eastern city of Jalalabad left four people dead – the worst anti-American protests in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
While most of the protesters appeared to be students, officials have suggested that elements opposed to the country’s U.S.-backed re-emergence were stirring the violence, which has also targeted the United Nations and American troops.
“It’s the symbols of this change in Afghanistan that have been singled out,” said Paul Barker, director of CARE International, one of the largest international relief groups in Afghanistan. “There are probably people around the country inciting this.”
In the bloodiest incident, police fired on hundreds of anti-U.S. demonstrators in the town of Khogyani to prevent them from departing toward Jalalabad, about 30 kilometres to the north, local police chief Maj. Gul Wali said.
Wali said three of the protesters died and one was injured. He claimed many at the gathering were armed.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Latufallah Mashal said only two people died in Khogyani.
Mashal said a third protester died in a separate clash with police in Wardak province, south of Kabul.
In Mohammed Agha district of neighbouring Logar province, Barker said a group of high-school students assailed the CARE office early Thursday morning, beating one staff member and destroying equipment. The office of another foreign relief group next door was set on fire, he said.
Logar Gov. Amanullah Hamimi said protesters also broke the windows of the district mayor’s office and that unidentified men had destroyed a nearby mobile phone mast during the night with rockets.
In Kabul, more than 200 young men marched from a dormitory block near Kabul University chanting “Death to America!” and carrying banners including one stating: “Those who insult the Qur’an should be brought to justice.”
At the entrance to the university, a man with a clipped beard and spectacles read a resolution calling on U.S. President George W. Bush to apologize and opposing long-term U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.
About two dozen students clambered onto the roof of a nearby building and burned an American flag to applause and cries of “God is great!” from the crowd below. Dozens of police – some armed with sticks, others with assault rifles – looked on.
Ahmad Shah, a political sciences undergraduate, said the students had decided to protest after hearing of the deaths in Jalalabad on Wednesday.
“America is our enemy and we don’t want them in Afghanistan,” Shah said as the students ended their protest and returned to classes on Thursday morning. “When they insult our holy book, they have insulted us.”
Police said 150 students staged a similar brief demonstration at another high school in the city, but reported no violence.
Peaceful demonstrations have been reported in at least five other Afghan provinces.
The source of anger was a brief report in the May 9 edition of Newsweek magazine that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay placed Qur’ans on toilets in order to rattle suspects, and in at least one case “flushed a holy book down the toilet.”
There was at least one protest in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, which passed off peacefully, and hardline Islamic parties have called for demonstrations across the country on Friday.
The Pakistani government said at the weekend it was “deeply dismayed” over the Newsweek report, which Pentagon and White House officials said would be investigated.
Many of the 520 inmates in Guantanamo are Pakistanis and Afghans captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who is currently on a visit to Europe and travels to Washington later this month to seek long-term American military and economic aid, has called repeatedly for all the Afghan prisoners to be sent home.
© The Canadian Press, 2005
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