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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Arrest of Afghan Hazara commander sparks violent protests

Policemen injured by gunfire in Kabul, while hundreds march in Bamyan province

Hundreds of demonstrators in Shiite 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 also known as "Commander Sword" who is accused of serious human rights abuses, was arrested in a Hazara area of western Kabul, where a spate of suicide attacks by ISIS 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 of them by gunfire from 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 in the minority community against Sunni Pashtuns, traditionally Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group.

Mr Mujahid said about 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 Shiite 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, about 1,500 residents gathered to march towards the governor's compound and UN offices in a peaceful demonstration, said Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial governor .

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

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