Thu, May 03, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Afghan protests enter fourth day

INNOCENT LIVES About 2,000 students blocked the highway from Kabul to Pakistan to protest the second killing of civilians by coalition forces in less than two months

AGENCIES , KABUL AND JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN

Afghans protested for a fourth day yesterday over the killing of civilians by US-led coalition forces hunting Taliban, adding to pressure on Western-backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai amid rising violence.

Some 2,000 university students chanted anti-US and anti-Karzai slogans in the eastern province of Nangahar, where up to six civilians died on Sunday.

Protests have also been seen in the province of Herat, near the Iranian border in the west, where the police chief said 30 civilians had been killed in recent days by US-led forces.

The students blocked the main highway between the capital, Kabul, to Pakistan, to protest the second killing of civilians by Western troops in Nangahar in less than two months.

Scores of police were stationed to control the crowd.

Civilian deaths are a sensitive issue for Karzai and the foreign troops in the face of an upsurge in attacks by the Taliban in what is seen as a crunch year for all sides in the conflict.

Scores of civilians have died, most due to suicide bombings and other attacks by the Taliban, but a significant number also due to action by foreign forces.

Karzai has repeatedly urged Western troops to exercise caution to avoid civilian casualties, but protesters say he is ineffective and should go.

In Herat, protests erupted over the weekend after US officials said more than 130 Taliban had been killed in several days of ground and air attacks.

Provincial authorities rejected the coalition figure and police chief Sayed Shafiq Fazli said 30 civilians were among the dead.

Neighbors of the dead in Nangarhar and officials said those killed on Sunday were civilians, including three women.

The US military said four Taliban fighters were killed and a woman and a teenage girl died after being caught in crossfire.

The deaths in Nangarhar follow the killing in early March of nearly a dozen civilians by US Marines, who opened fire after their convoy was attacked by a suicide car-bomber.

More than 4,000 people, including 1,000 civilians, died last year in the worst fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Meanwhile, US-led forces and Afghan police shot at a convoy of vehicles speeding toward their checkpoint in southern Afghanistan, sparking a gunbattle that left five suspected insurgents dead, the US military said yesterday.

The troops opened fire after the three vehicles failed to slow down as they approached the checkpoint near Zara Kalay, a village in Maruf district of the southern province of Kandahar, late on Tuesday, the US-led coalition said in a statement.

"Once stopped, eight male insurgents exited the vehicles and began firing upon the checkpoint," the statement said. The border police and coalition forces shot five of the men to death, while the other three escaped, it said.

None of the police or coalition forces were hurt, it said.

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