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Anti-Cartoon Protests Turn Deadly in Afghanistan


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris. Across Asia and the Middle East today, more anger and demonstrations over the Danish cartoons that depict the Prophet Muhammad. In Iran, protestors threw rocks and firebombs at the Danish embassy for a second day. In Pakistan, 5,000 people gathered, chanting, hang the man who insulted the Prophet. They also burned effigies of Denmark's prime minister and a cartoonist. In Afghanistan, international peacekeepers came under attack in the northwestern part of the country and had to call for reinforcements.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in Kabul, and he gave us details of that incident.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

This took place in what's normally considered one of the most secure parts of the country, a town called Mimina in the northwest, near the border with Turkmenistan. Spokesmen for the international peacekeeping force here, they say that a crowd gathered this morning outside the small garrison of Norwegian- commanded peacekeepers stationed there. The spokesmen say that the mob tried to rush the base, and that Norwegian troops fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

The tensions continued to escalate there, with the crowd reportedly firing shots at the base, throwing grenades at the building, and setting fire to several of the peacekeepers' vehicles as well as to a neighboring Afghan government building. Five Norwegian soldiers were injured in these clashes. Afghan police have claimed responsibility for killing at least three of the demonstrators. A British quick reaction force of peacekeepers was called in to secure the nearby airfield in Mimina, and they medevaced two injured Norwegian soldiers. The town is reportedly much calmer now, with Afghan police said to be patrolling the streets.

NORRIS: Now, that was in northwestern Afghanistan. We've noted you're in Kabul. What's the scene there?

WATSON: Well, peacekeepers here were also on patrol. They were visibly on much higher alert than normal. Afghan riot police were stationed at intersections around the city, at the gates to the city as well, and they succeeded in preventing large groups of protestors from gathering in the center of the city. We did see about a hundred people throwing rocks at the Danish embassy here yesterday, and at other European embassies.

I do have to point out, though, that it was largely business as usual for thousands of Afghan residents here. The markets were packed with people. The streets were jammed with cars and pedestrians. These residents were apparently oblivious to the protests organized by several hundred demonstrators.

NORRIS: Now, today's protests follow some violent demonstrations yesterday, including a riot at the gates of the main American airbase. Has the U.S. become a target in this?

WATSON: There has been some backlash against the U.S. Yesterday more than a thousand protestors gathered outside the gates of Bagram Airbase. That's north of Kabul. They torched some buildings, threw rocks at passing American vehicles and clashed with Afghan police, resulting in at least two deaths. We spoke with some of the protestors here in Kabul today, and they were chanting, Death to Bush, Death to America, and Death to Denmark. The protestors could be ignorant as to who is truly behind the cartoons, or they could just be using this as an excuse to lash out at the American forces that have been here for the past four years.

NORRIS: Now, aside from the protests over those published cartoons, there was another incident we should mention today. A suicide bomber struck in Kandahar. What do we know about that attack?

WATSON: This was a deadly attack. At least 13 people were killed when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle pulled up outside the police headquarters in Kandahar. Twenty more people were wounded. The Taliban seems to have shifted its tactics in the last few months, Michele. There have been at least 15 of these suicide attacks, and it's unusual, given that suicide bombers were not used during nearly a quarter century of war here in Afghanistan. And this new tactic has shaken the Afghanistan security forces. Afghan officials say it appears the Taliban has taken a page from the playbook of Iraq's deadly insurgency.

NORRIS: NPR's Ivan Watson, speaking to us from Kabul, Afghanistan. Thank you, Ivan.

WATSON: You're welcome, Michele. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.