KABUL — Hundreds continued to protest for the third day Sunday near the site of a deadly bomb blast in Kabul, demanding greater security and the ousting of the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani.
Protesters staged a sit-in under tents in the blazing heat — while fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. They clapped and chanted “God is great” a few hundred yards from the crater left by a massive truck bomb that killed nearly 100 on Wednesday. About 500 anti-government protesters also rallied for change in the western city of Herat.
The peaceful protest took place in a capital that remains tense after anti-government protests Friday and a gruesome triple suicide bombing that killed 20 Saturday at a funeral for a protester, according to the public health ministry. Demonstrators said they were angry that the government could not keep the country safe, and they demanded the arrests of security forces who allegedly fired into the crowd Friday, killing six.
“The duty of the government is maintaining of security. No one can prevent protests. Why were they not able to prevent the attacks with all the money and resources they have accumulated from the world? This shows their failure,” said Jawed Kohistani, a retired general and military analyst who spoke at the demonstration.
An intelligence official for the National Directorate of Security said Sunday that agents had arrested a panicked, barefoot man who fled from the funeral bombing. They believe there may have been a fourth suicide bomber. The man left behind high-top sneakers at the scene fitted with explosive devices, the official said.
The embattled Ghani, in a video statement released Saturday evening, blamed “savage terrorists” trying to “break down the nation’s spirit” for the violence.
“They want to create confusion, division, lack of confidence and a vacuum in the nation and the government,” the president said. He promised reforms in military and civilian sectors of the government and vowed to prosecute the “culprits” who fired on protesters.
Security experts say that if the protests catch hold and widen, they could weaken Ghani’s fragile coalition government, already worn thin by the Taliban insurgency and militants linked to the Islamic State.
About 200 protesters — most of them from Afghanistan’s Tajik ethnic group — hunkered down under two tents on an avenue leading to the presidential palace Sunday in Kabul’s diplomatic zone. Some had spent two nights there already, breaking their daily fast with the traditional iftar meal at the site.
They accused Ghani’s government of killing the protesters and of orchestrating the suicide attacks to “wipe out” and “subdue” the Tajiks, the second-largest ethnic group after the Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s traditional rulers.
Ghani, like most of the Taliban insurgents, is a Pashtun.
“They are bullying us, tearing us apart so that they can rule on us. This movement will become nationwide. Our blood from drops will become a river and will turn into a flood and will submerge our enemies,” said Faizullah Jalal, a Kabul University professor who spoke at the demonstration.
Organizers hope to expand the protest beyond the Tajik ethnic group to include those from the Uzbek and Hazara minorities as well.
One of the protesters, Rahim Frotan, 26, said he had spent three days and two nights at the protest because “we don’t want any more suicide attacks in Kabul.” He said Ghani’s security team should be fired — “they have all failed us.”
The protesters had their own security. Abdul Hameed Khorasani, brandishing an assault rifle and several magazines, said he expected that more protesters will join the crowd Monday. Khorasani said they will put together their demands in a draft, but they will not back away from their key demand — the end of Ghani’s government.
Sharif Walid contributed to this report.