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Kabul anti-government protest turns deadly

Wakil Kohsar, AFP | Afghan security forces use water cannons to disperse protesters in Kabul on June 2, 2017..

At least four Afghans were killed Friday when police fired live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters demanding the government's resignation following a gruesome truck bombing in Kabul.

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Public anger has mounted after an explosives-laden sewage tanker detonated in Kabul's diplomatic quarter on Wednesday, killing 90 people and wounding more than 400 others in the deadliest attack in the Afghan capital since 2001.

Hundreds of demonstrators calling for President Ashraf Ghani to step down and chanting "Death to the Taliban" clashed with police near the bombing site, prompting officials to respond with live rounds, tear gas and water cannon as the protesters tried to overrun a security cordon.

Police fired their weapons -- into the air as a warning at first -- as about a hundred of the demonstrators rushed towards them, some throwing rocks. As the protesters attempted to move closer to the Presidential Palace, police sprayed them with hoses from a water tanker and later fired tear gas.

Protesters held pictures of destruction from the truck bomb blast and of government leaders. Shopkeeper Mohammad Anwar said four members of his family were killed in the bombing and he wanted a change of leadership.

"We are calling on President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to resign," he said. Demonstrators also called for Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to step down.

Protester Amir Arya said a number of his friends were wounded by police as they tried to block the protesters from advancing.

"Some of them were beaten by police with sticks and some others detained," he said. "This act of police and government proves that peaceful demonstration would not be useful anymore."

Most of the casualties from the truck bombing were civilians, including women and children, officials have said. But the dead also included Afghan security guards at the facilities, including the US Embassy, and 11 American contractors were wounded - none with life-threatening injuries, a US State Department official said.

Afghan government blames Taliban

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which came in the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But Afghanistan's intelligence agency has blamed the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network for the explosion.

Ghani is expected to approve the execution of 11 Taliban and Haqqani prisoners, a government source told AFP, in apparent retaliation to the assault.

The Taliban -- currently in the midst of their annual "spring offensive" -- denied they were involved.

The Haqqani Network, long thought to have ties to neighbouring Pakistan's shadowy military establishment, is led by Sirajuddin Haqqani -- who is also the Taliban's deputy leader.

It has carried out numerous attacks in Kabul, including the 2008 Indian embassy bombing that killed almost 60 people.

With hundreds wounded, the injured spilled over into hospital hallways as people were still searching for missing relatives.

Health officials warned some victims may never be identified as their bodies were torn into pieces or burned beyond recognition.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

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