Sunday, March 1, 2009

Afghans protest alleged NATO gunshots in mosque

Associated Press
February 27, 2009

About 500 protesters blocked roads and clashed with police in southern Afghanistan on Friday, alleging international forces fired gunshots in a village mosque. A spokesman for NATO forces said they had no reports of international troops in the area where Thursday's incident allegedly occurred. Afghanistan's southern provinces continue to be Taliban strongholds wracked by violence, years after a U.S.-led invasion ousted the hard-line Islamists from the central government in 2001.
It is often difficult in the turbulent region to separate actual incidents from Taliban propaganda, but a government delegation said the mosque door was damaged by bullets and some protesters said they had witnessed the mosque raid. A protester reached by phone said he saw Polish forces fire their guns in a mosque in the village of Dhi Khodaidad in Ghazni province.Abdulrahman, who only gave one name, said he was in the mosque when the troops raided. He said the bullets hit a wall but did not injure anyone.Robert Rochowicz, spokesman for Poland's Defense Ministry, said he had "no information at all about any kind of incident concerning Polish troops in Afghanistan." He said he would have been informed if anything had happened.

A number of incidents in recent months in which NATO or U.S. strikes killed civilians have increased anger against international troops in Afghanistan, threatening the effort to drive back the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called on international forces to do more to respect the local population and prevent civilian deaths.The Ghazni protest turned violent as the crowd threw rocks at police and at least three demonstrators were wounded by gunfire before the melee calmed down, Ghazni police Chief Mohammad Zaman said."We don't know if the Polish forces entered a mosque or not, but the protesters are claiming that," Zaman said.
At least two bullets hit the door of the mosque, said Deputy Gov. Kazim Allayar, who led a delegation that visited the building Friday. He said he did not have further information but that government officials would meet with Polish forces Saturday to find out if they were involved.NATO forces said an initial query turned up no reports of troops in Dhi Khodaidad, but they were continuing to investigate."We don't believe there were any forces in the area yesterday," said Lt. Commander Chris Hall, a NATO spokesman in Afghanistan.

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