Thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the Afghan capital yesterday in a tense protest over a dispute with nomads about land and grazing that demonstrators said left several people dead.
Hundreds of riot police were out to control the angry crowd on the outskirts of the city center and a Hazara security team was also trying to calm the protesters, a reporter at the scene said.
There was extra security across the city and helicopters patrolling the sky amid concern the protest could boil over into violence.
Organizer Kazim Wahidi from a group called the Defending Committee for the Dignity of the People claimed 80,000 people took part. Police could not immediately provide a figure; reporters said there were thousands of demonstrators but it was difficult to gauge the numbers.
The dispute erupted when Kuchi nomads moved into Wardak Province’s Behsud area, about 100km east of Kabul, in recent months in search of grazing for their animals.
Hazaras allege that the nomads, who are Pashtuns, forced their way in and killed several people, and destroyed houses and crops.
Ethnicity is a sensitive issue in Afghanistan, which is still scarred by the 1992-1996 civil war in which different groups massacred, raped and tortured each other. The violence left around 80,000 people dead in Kabul alone.
“The demonstration is to protest against the Kuchi invasion,” Akram Gizabi said, spokesman for a group at the protest called the Civil Movement of Afghanistan.
“Kuchi people attacked Hazarajat [Hazara land]. They killed our people and destroyed our land and the government does not do anything because the government supports such people,” protester Massoom Ali, 16, said.
The demonstrators shouted slogans and carried posters of nine people including four children they alleged were killed by Kuchis.
There have been media reports of the clashes but officials have not confirmed casualties.
Banners read: “Hazara people want justice” and “The Kuchi should be disarmed.”
Kuchi nomads, whose numbers are not known, move up from the south and east every summer in search of grazing. For the past three years there have been tensions between them and Hazara in Wardak.
Meanwhile, a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Afghan capital’s landmark and ancient Babur’s Gardens early yesterday, wounding five civilians, the interior ministry said.