Kabul : Thousands of protesters marched coffins containing the decapitated bodies of seven Shiite Hazaras through the Afghan capital Kabul Wednesday to demand justice for the gruesome beheading, which the United Nations says may be considered a war crime.
Demonstrators gathered in west Kabul and walked through the rain bearing the coffins draped in green to the gates of the presidential palace, where organizers said they were planning to stage a sit-in until their demands were met by the government.
The number of protesters outside the palace dwindled to dozens after warning shots were fired in the air Wednesday afternoon, though many people remained in the streets, according to an AFP photographer.
“Warning shots have been fired in the air, the demonstrators are dispersing,” Kabul’s deputy police chief Sayed Gul Agha Rohani told AFP. He did not confirm who had fired the shots or why.
The defence ministry said the armed forces had not opened fire.
The protest, unusual for Afghanistan in its scale and organization, had been mostly peaceful Wednesday. A health ministry spokesman said seven people were injured during the demonstration, adding that “some” of them had received bullet wounds. He gave no further details on the injuries.
Rohani had earlier said no one had been injured as a result of the warning shots.
Demonstrators also carried pictures of the victims, including two women and one child — a girl, whose coffin was carried by grieving women.
“This is a protest to demand justice for the victims who were so mercilessly murdered, we demand justice for people who are being brutally killed by terrorists every day,” protester Mohammad Hadi told AFP.
“We want revenge, today they kill us, tomorrow they kill you,” the protesters chanted.
The circumstances surrounding the beheadings remain unclear. The bodies of the seven victims, who are believed to have been held hostage by unknown gunmen for months, were found on Saturday in Zabul province, where fighting between rival Taliban groups has escalated over recent days.
“The people are asking why the government has been indifferent towards these crimes, people are demanding the resignation of the heads of the government because they have been inefficient and corrupt and never address the demands of the people,” Jawad Sultani, a university lecturer at the protests said.
“Ashraf Ghani, we want answers,” a woman protestor shouted through a loudspeaker.
The protest came as the United Nations followed the Afghan government and the US in condemning the killings, suggesting they may have been a war crime.
“These senseless murders may amount to war crimes and the perpetrators must be held accountable,” Nicholas Haysom, the UN’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said in a statement Wednesday.
– Growing fury –
In a national address Wednesday, Ghani called the killings “the shared pain of a nation”, and accused the militants of trying to divide Afghanistan.
“All their destructive efforts are focused on creating gaps among the people,” he said, adding that the government would not spare any effort in seeking “revenge”.
Some local officials have attributed the macabre killings to IS sympathizers, however the government does not have control of the area and the claims could not be verified.
Afghanistan’s intelligence agency on Tuesday rejected the suggestion that IS affiliates were responsible, saying that the southern province has been the scene of deadly clashes between rival Taliban factions for days.
The protesters in Kabul chanted death slogans to the Taliban and IS.
The bodies of the seven victims were first taken to their home province of Ghazni, where protests were also held Tuesday, with demonstrators bearing the coffins of the dead marching to the provincial governor’s compound.
The bodies were then driven to Kabul late Tuesday, where they were greeted by hundreds of mourners carrying candles before beginning their march early Wednesday.
The three million-strong Afghan Hazara community has been persecuted for decades, with thousands killed in the late 1990s by Al-Qaeda and the mainly Pashtun Sunni Taliban.
There has been a surge in violence against the mostly-Shiite Hazara this year, with a series of kidnappings and killings that have triggered a wave of fury on social media.
On Tuesday the Afghan spy agency said its forces had freed eight other Hazaras who had been held hostage for months, but offered no further details.
Source : AFP