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Shots Fired At Kabul Protest Over Hazara Beheadings

A man places a candle on top of one of the coffins for the seven people killed by unknown militants, during a protest procession in Kabul.
A man places a candle on top of one of the coffins for the seven people killed by unknown militants, during a protest procession in Kabul.

KABUL -- Afghan security forces have fired warning shots into the air to drive back protesters trying to climb the walls of the Presidential Palace in Kabul, where thousands of marchers expressed anger over the brutal killings of seven ethnic Hazaras.

President Ashraf Ghani is preparing to appear in a televised address to the nation, his office says.

Initial reports suggest eight people were injured in the November 11 unrest, but that information could not immediately be confirmed.

The marchers carried the coffins of the seven victims -- whose deaths are being blamed on Islamist militants -- and called for a new government that can ensure security in the country.

The protesters chanted death slogans targeting the Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militant group but also called for the resignations of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, the two main figures in a power-sharing deal propping up the central government that both those militant groups oppose.

There has been an upsurge in violence this year against the Afghan Hazara community, which is predominantly Shi'ite, including a series of kidnappings and killings.

The nearly decapitated bodies of the four men, two women, and a child were found on November 7 in the southeastern province of Zabul, where rival Taliban factions have been engaged in intense fighting in recent days.

The victims were abducted in neighboring Ghazni Province about six months ago.

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Local officials said the Taliban had hanged eight IS militants involved in the killings, but Afghanistan's spy agency dismissed that claim.

Ghani condemned the murders as a "heartless killing of innocent individuals" and promised an investigation.

UN Special Representative for Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom also issued a statement, saying, "These senseless murders may amount to war crimes and the perpetrators must be held accountable."

There have been reports for several days of fighting between two Taliban factions in Zabul, where militants control several districts and some fighters have declared allegiance to IS.

Mullah Akhtar Mansur assumed the leadership of the Afghan Taliban amid some contradictory reports after Kabul announced in July that Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for two years.

Earlier this month, a splinter Taliban faction announced it had appointed its own leader, Mullah Mohammad Rasul.

In the latest confrontation between the two factions, the splinter group claimed last week it had carried out a suicide attack on its Taliban rivals, killing and wounding dozens of fighters loyal to Mullah Mansur.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, AP, and the BBC

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