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Afghan guards open fire at Kabul rally over Hazara slayings

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Kabul: Afghan presidential guards opened fire today to disperse thousands of protesters marching outside the palace compound in Kabul to denounce recent abductions and killings of seven members of the Hazara Shiite minority.

The case of the Hazaras, whose beheaded bodies were found Saturday in the country’s southeastern province of Zabul, appears to have galvanized many in war-battered Afghanistan.

Earlier in the day, about 10,000 rallied in the center of the Afghan capital, carrying coffins of the seven victims and calling for a new government that could ensure security in the country.

The shooting, which the Public Health Ministry said wounded seven people, occurred as some of the demonstrators tried to scale the walls of the presidential palace at Pashtunistan Square. It was not immediately clear if President Ashraf Ghani was inside the heavily fortified palace at the time.

Shortly afterward, Ghani went live on national television, appealing for calm and promising the Hazara deaths would be avenged. “The nation’s pain is my pain,” he said, vowing the authorities would have “no mercy” on the killers.

“We shall revenge the blood of our brothers and sisters,” he said, adding that the “enemies of Afghanistan” are trying to create disunity and “bring ethnic and sectarian violence” to the country.

After the gunshots, many of the demonstrators dispersed but about 1,000 were allowed into the palace compound. About 30 of them were to meet with Ghani and members of his National Security Council later Wednesday to press demands for justice and security, according to organizer Lilia Mohammadi.

The seven coffins had also been moved inside the palace grounds, she said, where they would stay the night a conciliatory gesture following the gunfire.

Kabul’s deputy police chief Gul Agha Rouhani said security forces shot in the air to disperse the protesters trying to scale the palace walls. He could not confirm reports of injuries. Later, riot police took up positions at the gates as a tense calm returned.

“About 100 people were trying to get into the palace by climbing over the wall,” said Ahmad Sharif, 36, who took part in the rally. He said he saw one protester hit by gunshots.

Before arriving at the palace gates, the protesters walked for almost four hours carrying the green-draped coffins of the four Hazara men, two women and a nine-year-old girl, Shukria. Many chanted “Death to the Taliban,” ”Down with the Government” and “Death to Pakistan.