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KABUL (AP) – Militants hiding among demonstrators fired on police Saturday, sparking a gun battle in the middle of a protest over the deaths of four men in a NATO-Afghan raid, officials said. At least two people were wounded.
NATO and Afghan police have said the four killed late Wednesday were insurgents, but villagers in the Qara Bagh district in Ghazni province insist they were civilians.
Protesters have taken to the streets for three straight days and have blocked traffic on a highway that links the major cities of Kabul and Kandahar, forcing trucks and vehicles to wait for hours.
The protest Saturday turned violent when armed militants hiding in the crowd began shooting at police, according to the district’s chief administrator, Yasouf Saraji Andar. “Policemen also opened fire to defend themselves and two people were wounded,” he said.
Similar violence broke out earlier this month in the southern province of Helmand when six people were reportedly killed in scuffles between Afghan security forces and protesters angry over a rumor that NATO forces had desecrated a Quran. NATO has denied its troops disrespected the Muslim holy book.
Police in Helmand’s Garmsir district blamed Taliban militants for staging the protests to foment unrest.
A recent U.N. report showed the number of civilian deaths attributed to allied troops dropped sharply, while Taliban suicide bombings and other attacks killed more people. But reports of Afghan deaths at the hands of NATO and government forces continue to prompt anger.
North of the capital, a NATO helicopter was damaged Saturday when its front rotor blade accidentally struck the ground upon landing in the Parwan province. There were no injuries and no hostile action was involved, the international force said.
A provincial governor also escaped an assassination attempt Friday while traveling to inspect a school southwest of Kabul, but four Afghan soldiers in his convoy were killed in the bombing, a spokesman said.
Halim Fidai, the governor of Wardak province, was on his way to the school after meeting with elders in the Jagatu district when the roadside bomb exploded.
The governor was unharmed, but four Afghan soldiers in a different vehicle were killed and another was wounded, according to the governor’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid, who also was in the convoy.
Two armed men, including a local Taliban commander, were arrested as they tried to flee the scene, Shahid said.
Afghan officials are frequently targeted by militants seeking to dent public confidence in the U.S.-backed government.
A policeman was killed and another wounded in a gunbattle after suspected Taliban militants ambushed a checkpoint in the Baghlan province, according to the provincial government.