Tens of thousands of mostly ethnic Hazara Afghans were enraged over a rerouted power line. The project is now set to run directly through the Hazaras' population hub. The group has long been a target of persecution.
The Afghan capital was in a state of lockdown on Monday after tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to protest the proposed route of a major power line. The protest highlighted the nation's still-turbulent and ethnically divided politics, as well as disappointment with the administration of President Ashraf Ghani.
The protestors attempted to march on the presidential palace as security forces blocked key intersections with shipping containers to bar their progress.
"Ashraf Ghani is hiding behind blast walls," Dawood Naji told the flag-waving crowd.
Naji is a leader from the Hazara ethnic group, members of which were upset with the ethnic Pashtun president's plan to run a 500-kilovolt power line from Turkmenistan to the capital via a Hazara-dominated area of Afghanistan.
"We can break down these containers if we want but we are here to protest in a civilised way for our rights," said Naji to dissuade the protestors from resorting to violence.
Hazara targeted once again?
The power line was originally supposed to pass through the center of the country, but the government then opted to have it run through the Bamiyan province, home to many Hazara, saying it would make the project go faster and cut down on cost.
The Hazara community, which numbers some three million Afghans, has long been the target of persecution. Thousands were killed in the late 1990s by al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
"Staging peaceful protests is the civil right of every Afghan citizen," said a statement from the interior ministry, adding that "we respectfully request that our countrymen not allow the enemy (to) misuse this opportunity and disrupt public security."
The latter comment was referring to the Taliban's penchant for launching a renewed offensive against government stability in the spring. Authorities have warned that demonstrations could provide an easy target for insurgents.
es/jil (AFP, Reuters)