KABUL — Afghan security forces fired warning shots outside the presidential palace Wednesday to disperse thousands of protesters angry over slayings suspected of having been committed by militants linked to the Islamic State.
The demonstration — one of the largest in recent years in Afghanistan — highlighted growing discontent at the government’s inability to counter groups such as the Taliban and Islamic State-inspired factions. It also underscored the unease among the country’s minorities, who are increasingly fearful of being targeted by militants.
The protest was held days after the bodies of seven members of the Hazara minority were found with their throats slit in the southern province of Zabul. The dead included three women and a child. Provincial officials suspect that militants linked to the Islamic State carried out the killings.
On Wednesday, Afghan television showed protesters trying to climb the walls of the presidential compound. Security personnel fired into the air, forcing down those who had managed to scale a wall. The gunfire lasted nearly a minute, prompting protesters on the road to scatter. News reports said several were wounded.
The protesters, estimated at more than 10,000, were demanding stronger government action to combat what many Afghans fear is a rise in sectarian violence.
The Hazaras, an ethnic minority comprising mostly Shiite Muslims, have long suffered persecution under various Afghan governments, particularly under the Taliban in the 1990s. A spate of violence this year has included several attacks against Hazaras.
Angry relatives of the seven victims in the weekend attack, who hailed from Ghazni province, refused to bury the bodies and instead took the coffins to Kabul. Ghazni is a largely Hazara-populated region about 70 miles southwest of Kabul.
On Wednesday, the mainly Hazara demonstrators marched with the coffins through the streets of Kabul. The demonstration came a day after a protest in Ghazni and followed an overnight candlelight vigil in Kabul.
The protesters chanted anti-government slogans and demanded the resignations of President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the power-sharing government, Abdullah Abdullah. Some chanted “Death to Ghani, death to Abdullah,” as well as “Death to Daesh” and “Death to the Taliban.” Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
Later, in a nationwide address, Ghani urged Afghans to remain united.
“Our victory is in our empathy. . . . We will take revenge for the blood of our martyrs from Daesh, Taliban and any other terroristic group that has been an accomplice in such crimes,” he said.
Members of other ethnic groups, including Pashtuns — who make up the bulk of the Taliban ranks — and Tajiks were among the protesters in Kabul.
“We are showing the enemies of Afghanistan that you cannot divide us by ethnicity, tribe, region and sect,” said Dadullah Babrak, a protest organizer.
As he spoke, protesters chanted: “We Tajiks, we Pashtuns and we Hazaras are all united.”
On Wednesday, some protesters even chanted slogans against the United States, accusing it of not giving Afghan forces enough equipment to fight the militants.
“U.S. and international partners of Afghanistan who are here and have signed security pacts with us need to fulfill their responsibility,” said Ahmad Shah Stanekzai, a protest organizer. “For how long will they act like spectators? They should give us the necessary gear so we can fight the terrorists.”