Reuters - By Hamid Shalizi
KABUL - Wed Sep 15, 2010 - Police fired into the air to disperse thousands of anti-American protesters in Afghanistan's capital Wednesday, witnesses and police said, with one person killed and at least five wounded.
Demonstrators chanted "Death to America," "Death to Christians," and "Death to Karzai," the latter referring to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in the biggest protests since unrest erupted last week over plans by a U.S. pastor to burn the Koran.
"There are more than 10,000 of the demonstrators and some of them are waving the Taliban flag," police officer Mohammad Usman.
The protests come three days before a parliamentary election which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt. The election is a key test of stability in Afghanistan before U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a war strategy review in December.
They follow three days of protests at the weekend over plans by an obscure U.S. pastor, which he later abandoned, to burn copies of the Koran to mark the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, hijacked airliner attacks on the United States.
Three people were killed in those protests. Observers including the top U.N. diplomat in Afghanistan had warned the Taliban may try to exploit the Koran-burning protests.
A police source later said one person had been killed and five wounded, and that the toll could rise. The protests were the Reuters television pictures showed protesters waving large white flags, the symbol used by Taliban supporters.
A spokesman for the Taliban, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the hardline Islamist group was aware of the protests but had no role in them.
"People may have raised the Taliban flags to show their sentiment and sympathy for the Taliban," Mujahid told Reuters from an undisclosed location.
At the Pul-e-Kandahari, or Kandahar bridge in Kabul, police were ordered to advance toward one group of hundreds of protesters who were throwing stones and shouting "Death to American slaves" at police.
Police were seen firing into the air and dragging away several protesters. At one point, volleys of gunfire could be heard. The protesters scattered, some sheltering in nearby houses in the mainly ethnic Pashtun and Tajik area of Kabul.
The protesters earlier gathered in the west of the capital, burning tires and blocking a main highway link to the south. Thick black smoke rose above the area and police kept journalists several hundred meters back.
Reuters witnesses at the scene saw two unconscious people, covered in blood, being carried away suffering what appeared to be gunshot wounds.
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