|Page 2 of 2 <|
Accident Sparks Riot in Afghan Capital
Rioters tried to reach Karzai's palace but were stopped by police. They managed to destroy a giant portrait of him that covers an entire wall of the downtown municipal building.
At the offices of Ariana television, one of two new private stations here, broadcasters appealed on the air for help as sounds of banging and shouting outside could be heard. They pleaded repeatedly with the Interior Ministry to send troops to save their building, but the attackers eventually left before help arrived.
All major open-air markets in the city shut down as the riots spread. Schools were let out at midmorning and many teenage boys with book bags joined in the looting and destruction, witnesses said. The streets were virtually deserted until late afternoon.
The Defense Ministry broadcast repeated statements asking people to remain calm and warning that security forces would respond aggressively to looting and do whatever was necessary to protect civilians.
The speaker of parliament, who is a leading rival of Karzai, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court also called for calm and for an investigation into the day's events. Two other legislators went to the scene of the worst violence and appealed to people to go home.
The rioters tried to break into numerous buildings, including banks, guesthouses and aid agencies. In several places they exchanged fire with police and security guards, witnesses said. On one private videotape of a street incident, a guard could be heard shouting in the Dari language, "I am a Muslim. I am not an infidel. I am not an American. Please let me go."
Among the worst-damaged buildings were the offices of CARE International in the Qalaifatullah district, which was badly burned and ransacked, with computers and other office equipment stolen or smashed. At midafternoon, firefighters were still putting out the blaze and office debris covered the street outside.
Another high-profile target was the Serena Hotel, a recently opened luxury hotel that the government hoped would attract foreign visitors and investors. After the rioters passed, every large display window in the elegant building was riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.
Karzai, speaking on national television Monday night, condemned "opportunists" for exploiting a simple traffic accident and said people responsible for the violence would be sought and treated severely. "Accidents happen all over the world," he said. "This is not a reason to fight or destroy. Those who have done this are the enemies of Afghanistan."