Afghans protest over civilian deaths for third day

  • World
  • Tuesday, 01 May 2007

By Noor Rahman

JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Burning an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush and chanting anti-U.S. slogans, hundreds of Afghans staged a third day of protests on Tuesday over the killing of civilians by U.S.-led coalition forces. 

The police chief for the western province of Herat, Sayed Shafiq Fazli, said 30 civilians had been killed in the past several days by U.S.-led forces, adding to pressure on President Hamid Karzai over civilian casualties as coalition forces hunt for Taliban insurgents. 

Afghans burn an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush during a protest in the eastern province of Nangarhar May 1, 2007. (REUTERS/Rafiq Shirzad)

Tuesday's protests were in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where up to six civilians died on Sunday in the second killing of civilians in the region by U.S.-led coalition troops in less than two months. 

The protestors, mostly students, briefly blocked a main road into the provincial capital, Jalalabad, and repeated calls for Karzai to step down. 

"Karzai should go. He has no power and he can't serve us," said one student, referring to Karzai's repeated calls for Western troops to avoid civilian casualties. 

"We do not want American forces. They should go. Death to America," another chanted, before the protest ended peacefully under a tight police watch. 

A powerful tribe in the province, the Shinwar, on Monday vowed not to allow U.S.-led forces and troops under a separate U.S.-led NATO command into their district to hunt the Taliban. 

Neighbours of the dead and Nangarhar officials said those killed in the raid on Sunday were civilians, including three women. But the U.S. military said four were Taliban fighters and civilian casualties were a woman and a teenage girl killed in crossfire. 

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

Provincial authorities rejected the coalition figure of Taliban deaths and dispatched a team to investigate. 

"We have learnt from various sources ... that 30 civilians are among those killed," police chief Fazli told reporters in Herat city. 

The death toll of suspected Taliban killed in the raids was less than reported by the U.S. military, he said. 

The deaths in Nangarhar follow the killing in early March of nearly a dozen civilians by U.S. Marines. 

The Marines opened fire after their convoy was attacked by a suicide car-bomber. The unit was called home after protests. 

Neighbours of those killed at the weekend attended Tuesday's protest and said five people had died, including two women, with only a young girl surviving from the family. Afghan police and the U.S.-led forces say six were killed. 

Civilian deaths are a sensitive issue for Karzai and the foreign troops, facing an upsurge in attacks by the Taliban in what is seen as a crunch year for both 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. 

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

(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin) 

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