May 1, 2007 / 7:03 AM / 13 years ago

Fresh anti-US protest over Afghan civilian deaths

By Noor Rahman

JALALABAD, Afghanistan, May 1 (Reuters) - Burning an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush and chanting anti-U.S. slogans, hundreds of Afghans staged a third day of protests on Tuesday over the killing of civilians in a raid by U.S.-led forces.

The protesters were mostly university students in the eastern province of Nangarhar, where up to six civilians were killed. They briefly blocked a main road into the provincial capital, Jalalabad, to protest the second killing of civilians in the region by U.S.-led coalition troops in less than two months.

Neighbours of the dead and Nangarhar officials said those killed in the raid on Sunday were civilians, including three women. But the U.S. military said four were Taliban fighters and civilian casualties were a woman and a teenage girl killed in crossfire.

The students, protesting under tight police watch and a blazing sun, repeated calls made in previous protests for President Hamid Karzai to step down.

"Karzai should go. He has no power and he can’t serve us," said one student, referring to Karzai’s repeated calls for Western troops to avoid civilian casualties when hunting militants.

"We do not want American forces. They should go. Death to America," another chanted, before the protest ended peacefully.

A powerful tribe in the province, the Shinwar, on Monday vowed not to allow U.S.-led forces and troops under a separate U.S.-led NATO command into their district to hunt the Taliban.

The deaths in Nangarhar were followed by reports of dozens of civilian deaths in several days of ground and air attacks by U.S.-led forces in the western province of Herat.

U.S. officials say all of the more than 130 killed in Herat were Taliban.

Protests also erupted in Herat after the coalition raids. Provincial authorities rejected the coalition figure of Taliban deaths and say they have dispatched a team to investigate.

The deaths follow the killing in early March of nearly a dozen civilians by U.S. Marines in Nangarhar.

The Marines opened fire after their convoy was attacked by a suicide car-bomber. The unit was called home after protests.

Neighbours of those killed at the weekend attended the protest and said five people had died, including two women, with only a young girl surviving from the family. Afghan police and the U.S.-led forces say six were killed.

Civilian deaths are a sensitive issue for Karzai and the foreign troops, facing an upsurge in attacks by the Taliban in what is seen as a crunch year for both sides in the conflict.

Scores of civilians have died, most due to suicide bombings and other attacks by the Taliban, but a significant number also due to action by foreign forces.

More than 4,000 people — including 1,000 civilians — died last year in the worst fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin)

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