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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Another top Afghan politician accused of assaulting rival

Member of Balkh provincial council says part of his ear was bitten off during attack by governor and his sons

A powerful Afghan provincial governor is facing accusations he detained and assaulted a political rival in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif this week, in the second such case in a year.

The allegations add to Afghanistan's domestic political woes, as president Ashraf Ghani's government struggles in the war against Taliban insurgents amid a fractious political arena that includes former warlords with armed followers.

Atta Mohammad Noor, the governor of Balkh province, denies an accusation by provincial council member Asef Mohmand that Mr Noor and his sons abducted him from the Mazar-i-Sharif airport on Monday and then assaulted him.

Mr Mohmand told reporters one of Mr Noor's sons bit off part of his ear during the attack.

The governor's office called the accusations a "pure lie" and said the government in Kabul had sent a delegation to Mazar-i-Sharif to investigate.

Mr Noor is among several prominent politicians to form a coalition with Afghan vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, who remains in Turkey after being accused of ordering his men to abduct, beat, and rape a political rival last year. Mr Noor staged a demonstration earlier this month to call for the "unconditional return" of Mr Dostum.

Mr Mohmand had accused Mr Noor of corruption and running personal prisons at a press conference in Kabul on August 9. When he returned to Mazar-i-Sharif on Monday, he said, he was met by Mr Noor and "dozens of armed men".

On Thursday, Mr Mohmand appeared at a press conference in Kabul with a bandaged head and said he was taken to Mr Noor's house and beaten by the governor and his sons.

"His son came forward and bit my ear as you can see," Mr Mohmand said. "His second son was punching and kicking me and saying, 'Now you can see how powerful we are'."

He said Mr Noor stepped on his throat and accused him of trying to conspire against the governor.

Mr Noor's office rejected Mr Mohmand's account.

"Mohmand was directly taken to the police station and the injuries could have happened during his arrest," said Muneer Ahmad Farhad, spokesman for the Balkh governor's office. "He was not taken to the governor's residence."

Many of Afghanistan's leaders, including Mr Noor and Mr Dostum, are former warlords who maintain large followings and armed militias.

After Mr Ghani was elected in 2014, he removed all of Afghanistan's 34 provincial governors.

Mr Noor, however, refused to leave and has retained his position in Balkh.