Protesters Gunned Down In Southern Afghanistan

Several people were shot dead and more than a dozen injured on Tuesday during an anti-NATO demonstration in Afghanistan’s volatile Helmand province, local media said.

Hundreds of Afghans took part in the demonstration, which had to be dispersed by police and the military. They were protesting against the killings of civilians by NATO troops and demanding their withdrawal from the country.

The demonstration followed a recent NATO airstrike in the town of Garmsir. The military said several militants were killed as a result of the attack, but the protesters claimed there were also victims among civilians.

The shooting reportedly broke out on Tuesday when the demonstrators started to throw stones at Afghan police and foreign officers, who arrived at the site to calm down the protesters.

“I confirm that the demonstration in Garmsir took place, and that it was dispersed,” said Helmand governor’s press secretary Daud Ahmadi.

He said “no one could say for certain who fired at demonstrators – foreign servicemen, [Afghan] police or militants.” However, he added, “it is known for sure that there were armed men among the protesters,” and pledged to investigate the incident.

Demonstrations against NATO’s presence in Afghanistan are common. In late December, hundreds of students in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province blocked a major highway linking the Afghan east with country’s central provinces.

Violence surged in the country in 2009, with the radical Islamic Taliban group staging regular attacks on provincial government officials, police and civilians and planting roadside devices as part of its fight against U.S. and NATO troops.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate U.S.-led coalition, involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, have more than 110,000 troops in Afghanistan.

In early December, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised address to the nation that the U.S. would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010 to defeat the Taliban and establish law and order.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen then said alliance members were ready to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan. (Eurasia Review)

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