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Afghans besiege US base to protest arrests
Nearly 2,000 Afghans protested Tuesday outside the US air base in Bagram, north of the Afghan capital, Kabul. Chanting “Die America!” the crowd threw stones and tried to break down an outer gate to the base, demanding the release of eight detained villagers.
According to the Associated Press, Afghan troops fired warning shots and used clubs to beat back the demonstrators, and US troops also fired shots into the air. Smoke rose from tires set on fire by the protesters. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
It was the biggest anti-US protest since demonstrations erupted last May in Kabul, Jalalabad and other Afghan cities following the publication of an article in Newsweek magazine—later retracted—that reported the desecration of the Koran by US interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. Sixteen people were killed and scores injured in those protests.
Following Tuesday’s protests, the US military handed over six Bagram villagers to Afghan authorities. (The US said only six had been detained late Monday, following earlier reports of eight.) The six included a former commander in the US-backed Northern Alliance, an Islamic cleric, farmers and laborers.
The US claimed the men “had materials used to make improvised explosive devices in their possession and are thought to be planning future attacks against coalition forces.” The provincial governor guaranteed the men would be presented for questioning at any time US officials requested.
Demonstrators were angered that the men had been arrested without consulting local Afghan authorities. “We should be treated with dignity,” Shah Aghar, 35, told AP. “They are arresting our people without permission of the government. They are breaking into our houses and offending the people. We are very angry.”
Protesters who had massed outside the Bagram base—the main US military headquarters in Afghanistan—threw stones as six US military vehicles tried to enter the base. Soldiers in the vehicles fired into the air with handguns. As the convoy sped into the base, the crowd chased after it, trying to push down a metal gate guarded by Afghan troops. Some of the protesters were beaten by the guards with clubs, and most dispersed.