Protest at arrest of Afghan Hazara commander turns violent

KABUL (Reuters) - Hundreds of demonstrators in Shi’ite areas of Kabul and Bamyan province in Afghanistan protested on Sunday against the arrest of an ethnic Hazara militia commander

A senior security official said Alipur, a militia leader known as “Commander Sword” accused of serious human rights abuses, was arrested in a Hazara area of western Kabul, where a spate of suicide attacks by the radical Sunni Islamic State group has fed anger at perceived government indifference to violence against Hazaras.

Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid said at least 23 police had been injured in the demonstrations, three having been hit by bullets fired by supporters of Alipur. There were unconfirmed reports from people at the protest that some demonstrators had also been hurt.

While the conflict in Afghanistan kills thousands of people from all ethnic groups every year, Hazaras, have felt especially targeted and there has been growing resentment among many Hazaras against Sunni Pashtuns, traditionally Afghanistan’s dominant ethnic group.

Mujahid said around 1,000 people gathered in western Kabul, burning a security checkpoint as the demonstration turned violent.

“The protesters are using whatever they have in their hands against police, there are armed men among protesters,” he said.

A statement from the interior ministry said peaceful gatherings were legitimate but Sunday’s protests had not been agreed with authorities beforehand.

Despite the accusations against him, Alipur has enjoyed the support of powerful Hazara leaders. He also remains popular with many in the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community who see him as a Robin Hood-style figure who defends his people while the government stands by.

In the central province of Bamyan, which is also home to many Hazaras, around 1,500 residents gathered to march toward the governor’s compound and UN offices in a peaceful demonstration, Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, spokesman for Bamyan provincial governor said.

The incident follows days of fighting in the central province of Ghazni where local Hazara militias took up arms against the mainly Pashtun Taliban.

Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle