25 die in Afghan anti-NATO protest and suicide blast

By on Thursday, May 19th, 2011

A NATO raid sparked violent protests that left 12 dead while a suicide bomber killed 13 people in Afghanistan on Wednesday in one of the country’s bloodiest days for weeks.

Those killed in the protests in Taloqan, capital of the northeastern province of Takhar, were mainly civilians, while police trainers and cadets died when a bomber drove his car into a police bus near Jalalabad, eastern Afghanistan.

The NATO raid that led to the demonstrations in usually peaceful Takhar saw President Hamid Karzai demanding an explanation of what happened from the US commander of troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said an overnight operation which killed four people including two women targeted the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group operating from bases including in Afghanistan.

But furious protesters on the streets of Taloqan and the Western-backed Karzai said the four dead were civilians.

Police opened fire as 2,000 frenzied demonstrators gathered in the city, some throwing rocks at a foreign military and civilian reconstruction base.

“Twelve people have been killed and 80 others injured,” said Faiz Mohammad Tawhidi, spokesman for the provincial governor. Two German soldiers were among the wounded, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

Karzai, who frequently denounces foreign military operations that he says kill too many civilians, “strongly condemned” the NATO house raid, saying it had killed four members of the same family.

“The government of Afghanistan has a duty to assess the circumstances of the deaths of these individuals and demand an explanation from the commander of NATO (in Afghanistan),” his office said in a statement.

ISAF had said earlier that the operation was conducted alongside Afghan forces and that the two women who died in the raid were armed and pointed their weapons at coalition forces despite warnings.

During the protest, demonstrators threw rocks at the Provincial Advisory Team (PAT) compound, interior ministry spokesman Zemerai Bashary told AFP.

The local PAT is a German-led group of soldiers and civilians working to help Afghan government institutions.

Lal Mohammad Ahmadzai, a regional police spokesman, accused “some opportunists and violence-seeking elements” of infiltrating the protests.

Although relatively peaceful compared to Taliban rebel strongholds in the south, the north of Afghanistan has seen an increase in violence in recent years.

Seven UN staff were killed last month when their compound in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif was stormed during a protest against the burning of the Koran by an evangelical pastor in the United States.

Later on Wednesday, 13 people were killed and 20 others hurt in a suicide car bombing against a police bus in the east of Afghanistan that was claimed by the Taliban.

The attack happened outside Jalalabad, close to the airport, Nangarhar provincial spokesman Abdul Zia Ahmadzai said.

The suicide bomber is thought to have rammed his explosive-laden car into the bus carrying police trainers and cadets. His actions were condemned by Karzai.

The fast-growing Afghan police and military are frequently targeted by the Taliban and other insurgents.

All US-led international combat troops are due to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014 although this month’s killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by US troops in Pakistan has led to calls for this process to be speeded up.

Control of seven more peaceful Afghan areas is due to be handed to the fast-growing Afghan military and police from July.

There are currently around 130,000 international troops, around two-thirds from the United States, stationed in Afghanistan.

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