Tue, May 30, 2006 - Page 1 News List

Traffic accident sparks massive riot in Afghanistan

BOILING POINT After three US Humvees rammed into a traffic jam in Kabul, killing at least one civilian, hundreds of chanting protesters rampaged through the city


A traffic accident yesterday involving US troops sparked the worst riot in the Afghan capital since the fall of the Taliban, with hundreds of protesters looting shops and shouting "Death to America!" At least eight people were killed and 107 injured, an official said.

Hundreds of Afghan army troops and NATO peacekeepers in tanks deployed around the city, as chanting protesters marched on the presidential palace and rioters smashed police guard boxes, set fire to police cars and ransacked buildings, including the compound of aid group CARE International. Computers were set on fire and smoke billowed from the buildings.

Elsewhere, several demonstrators pulled a man who appeared to be a Westerner from a civilian vehicle and beat him. The man escaped and ran to a line of police officers, who fired shots over the heads of the demonstrators.

Afghan President Hamid issued a statement to call for calm and said the government "will do its utmost to protect the lives of the people and their property."

Abdullah Fahim, a Health Ministry spokesman, said that eight bodies were brought to hospitals in Kabul and 107 more Afghans were treated for injuries.

He said there were no foreigners among the wounded or dead. He had no details on how the casualties occurred, and it wasn't immediately clear if the toll included people from the traffic accident.

The riot was the worst in Kabul since US-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001. It erupted in the city's northern suburbs before spreading into the city center and then to other areas frequented by foreigners, including areas near US and NATO bases.

The unrest started after three US Humvee vehicles coming into the city from the outskirts rammed into a rush-hour traffic jam, hitting several civilian cars, witnesses said.

The US-led coalition said at least one person was killed and six injured in the crash, but police said at least three people were killed and 16 injured.

A Kabul police chief, Sher Shah Usafi, said another person was killed when US troops fired into a crowd of stone-throwing protesters soon after the crash.

Colonel Thomas Collins, a coalition spokesman, confirmed there was gunfire at the scene, but said coalition personnel in one military vehicle only fired over the crowd. He expressed regret for any deaths and injuries.

He said a large cargo truck in a coalition convoy had suffered a mechanical failure and hit as many as 12 civilian vehicles at a busy intersection. He said the coalition was conducting a full investigation.

Elsewhere, coalition warplanes bombed Taliban forces meeting in a mosque in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing up to 50 suspected rebels, Afghan and the US-led coalition officials said.

The coalition said they had dropped a bomb on the rebels when they had retreated into a "compound" after attacking an Afghan and coalition patrol in restive Helmand Province's Kajaki district.

Also, five Canadian soldiers were wounded and a suspected Taliban killed in a gun battle in the volatile south.

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