Afghanistan Endures Week of Violence

The week in Afghanistan brings new Taliban attacks, a suicide bombing in Kandahar, and violent protests in response to the publication of satirical cartoons of Muhammad in European newspapers.

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And the cartoons also prompted violent protests in Afghanistan this week, but other violent incidents in that country had nothing to do with the cartoons. Afghan authorities contended with more Taliban attacks, including the suicide bombing in Kandahar, and Sunni/Shiite tensions also erupted in the Western city of Herat. NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Several thousand protesters took to the streets of the Afghan capital yesterday after Friday prayers to denounce the European newspaper cartoons that have rocked the Islamic world.

(Soundbite of protesters)

The rhetoric was violent, with demonstrators chanting, Death to America, Death to Bush, and death to Denmark. But the crowd was otherwise peaceful. Malik Kadir(ph) was one of the local leaders who helped organize the rally.

Mr. MALIK KADIR (Rally Organizer, Afghanistan): (Through Translator) We strongly condemn the infidels. They have insulted our great Prophet, and we won't allow them to do this. We won't allow the Danish Embassy to remain here, and we demand that the Afghan government cut off diplomatic relations with Denmark.

WATSON: Outraged over the cartoons, which most of these people never even saw, heightened tensions in an already turbulent country. The Taliban-led insurgency has made Southern and Eastern Afghanistan a virtual no-go zone for international aide workers. This week, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the fifteenth suicide bomb in the past two months. The blast outside police headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar left at least 13 people dead.

As anti-cartoon protests erupted in Syria, Iran, Indonesia and Lebanon last weekend, Afghans around the country began holding their own demonstrations, some of which deteriorated into clashes with Afghan police and, for the first time, international peacekeepers. Two of these riots focused on American military bases.

Colonel Jim Yonts, the U.S. Military spokesman here, says there's more to this than just anger at the drawings.

Colonel JIM YONTS (Spokesman, U.S. Military): These demonstrations are used to express their distrust or their anger at the local government on an issue separate from the cartoons themselves.

WATSON: Some senior clerics here, including Malawi Mohammed Muslim(ph) of the Afghan Supreme Court, have come to the same conclusion.

Mr. MALAWI MOHAMMED MUSLIM (Senior Cleric, Afghan Supreme Court): (Through translator) The emotions and effects of those who cannot tolerate this paves the ground for those people who want to make use for their personal benefits from this incident.

WATSON: While condemning the riots, Muslim, as well as Afghan President Hamid Karzai, denounced the publication of the cartoons, saying they exceeded the boundaries of free speech. Muslim said the damage to Muslims caused by caricatures of the prophet Mohammed was comparable to the harm the heroin smuggled from Afghanistan does to societies in the West.

Mr. MUSLIM: (Through translator) So when the Muslims find out that their religion is being insulted, it's their duty to show their anger against this and to support their religion and to not allow the others to insult it.

WATSON: But this does little to explain the unusual outburst of sectarian violence in the Western city of Harat this week. During the commemoration of the Shiite Muslim festival of Ashura, gun battles broke out between Sunni Muslims and members of the Shiite minority there. The violence left dozens killed and wounded and several buildings in flames.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Kabul.

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