Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

In this file photo, Afghan president Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (R) holds up the hand of his vice-presidential candidate Abdul Rashid Dostum during an election campaign rally in Mazar-i-sharif on June 3, 2014. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018
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Anti-government protests end in Afghan north after appeal of returned exiled Dostum

  • Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan
  • The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh

KABUL: Demonstrators who had blocked border crossings and various state facilities as part of nearly three weeks-long anti-government move in northern Afghanistan, ended their protests on Monday after exiled first Vice President Abdul Rashid Dostum made an appeal on his arrival, residents and officials said.

“After what you can call appeal or order of Dostum, we have ended the protests, life is returning to normalcy,” Ahmad Tawab, a protester from the north told Arab News by phone.

Dostum, who was exiled by President Ashraf Ghani’s government over allegations of sexual abuse, returned home on Sunday to a rapturous reception from supporters as well as officials and is set to resume his duties as normal.

Dostum was greeted by hundreds of people, including women, some senior government officials, among them his political allies on a red carpet which was put on the tarmac of Kabul airport next to the stairs of the chartered plane that brought him from Turkey.

Some kissed his hands, others tried to get near him amid tight security with several TV stations showing live his arrival.

But as his convoy of armoured motorcades left the airport, a suicide bomber blew himself up moments later. 

Kabul police chief Daud Amin said that has been 19 killed, mostly security forces, and 60 were wounded.

Speaking to a big crowd in the garden of his spacious office, Dostum said presidential elite force were among the casualties.

Wearing a khaki suit with a necktie, the bespectacled burly former militia leader termed the arrest of his senior commander in the north by government Nizamuddin Qaisari as an “unfair move”. He said will talk with Ghani tomorrow and will raise the issue of the arrest.

Dostum who until recently, spoken against peace talks with Taliban, told the crowd that he was in favor of negotiations with the militants.

“I as the first Vice President, consider peace with the Taliban more important than any other thing,” he said. He called on his fellow ethnic Uzbek supporters to end the protest in north, allow reopening of schools, state institutions and border crossings which they had closed since the start of the protests nearly three weeks ago.

Dostum’s return follows nearly three weeks of mass protests in northern Afghanistan by his ethnic Uzbek supporters, who blocked several border crossings and government institutions, and threatened to boycott the long-delayed October elections.

The protests were a major headache for the government amid increased attacks by the Taliban and Daesh in the north recently.

Dostum’s supporters accuse Ghani of having sidelined him. The protests were triggered by the arrest of Qaisari, accused of severe human rights abuses and threatening to kill provincial officials.

In a video, government troops were seen beating Qaisari’s handcuffed guards during his arrest, stoking further anger. Haroon Chakansuri, a spokesman for Ghani, said Dostum had gone to Turkey for nearly 14 months for unspecified medical treatment.

Accusations that Dostum had ordered his guards to sexually abuse and torture political rival Ahmad Eschi will be handled independently by the courts, Chakansuri said. Dostum supporters say the allegations about Eschi are a conspiracy. Ghani picked Dostum, the self-proclaimed leader of ethnic Uzbeks, as his running mate in the 2014 elections.

Ghani last year blocked Dostum’s return from exile when he tried to fly home to form an opposition alliance including senior government members. The ethnic Uzbek vote is essential for any candidate in the presidential elections slated for next year. Ghani has said he will stand for office again.

“I think the government wants to hunt two pigeons with a shot,” said Inayatullah Kakar, an Afghan researcher.“It (Dostum’s return) will make the north tensions calm … then he will be part of the upcoming elections ...”


Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

Updated 13 min 39 sec ago
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Thousands rally in support of Hong Kong police

  • Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests
  • Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of people rallied in support of Hong Kong’s police and pro-Beijing leadership on Saturday, a vivid illustration of the polarization coursing through the city after weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than a month of huge and largely peaceful protests — as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police — sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China and other countries.
The bill has since been suspended, but that has done little to quell public anger which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms, universal suffrage and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Saturday’s rally was a moment for the establishment to muster their own supporters.
A predominantly older crowd was joined by families and younger residents, waving Chinese flags and holding banners supporting the police.
“Friends who used violence say they love Hong Kong too, but we absolutely cannot approve of their way of expressing themselves,” said Sunny Wong, 42, who works in insurance.
A 60-year-old woman surnamed Leung said protesters who stormed and vandalized the legislature earlier this month must be held responsible for their acts.
“I really dislike people using violence on others... it was so extreme,” Leung said.
Police estimated a turnout of 103,000 people at the peak of the rally, while local media cited organizers as saying 316,000 attended.
Hong Kong’s police are in the midst of a major reputational crisis.
With no political solution on the table from the city’s pro-Beijing leaders, the police have become enmeshed in a seemingly intractable cycle of clashes with protesters who have continued to hit the streets in huge numbers for six weeks.
Demonstrators and rights groups have accused riot police of using excessive force, including tear gas and rubber bullets, and public anger against the force is boiling over.
Police insist their crowd control responses have been proportionate and point to injured officers as proof that a hardcore minority of protesters mean them harm.
Some of the most violent clashes occurred last Sunday when riot police battled protesters hurling projectiles inside a luxury mall. Some 28 people were injured, including 10 officers.
There is growing frustration among the police force’s exhausted rank and file that neither the city’s leaders, nor Beijing, seem to have any idea how to end the crisis.
Chinese state media and powerful pro-Beijing groups threw their weight behind the pro-police rally.
Saturday’s edition of Hong Kong’s staunchly pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao ran a front page encouraging readers to join with the headline: “Kick away the violence.”
It featured a drawing of a large foot kicking over a pro-democracy demonstrator.
Many of those at the rally held aloft large slogans printed on the spread of Wen Wei Po, another stridently pro-Beijing newspaper in the city.
A rally last month by police supporters saw ugly scenes, with many participants hurling insults and scuffling with younger democracy protesters as well as media covering the gathering.
While the pro-government protests have mustered decent crowds, they have paled in comparison with the huge pro-democracy marches that have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of people.
Anti-government protesters are planning another large march Sunday afternoon and say they have no plan to back down until key demands are met.
Tensions were also raised after police on Saturday said they had discovered a homemade laboratory making high-powered explosives. A 27-year-old man was arrested and pro-independence materials were also discovered.
Under the 1997 handover deal with Britain, China promised to allow Hong Kong to keep key liberties such as its independent judiciary and freedom of speech.
But many say that 50-year deal is already being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.
Authorities have also resisted calls for the city’s leader to be directly elected by the people.