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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
Reflection after riots in Kabul
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

Afghan army troops in a tank keep watch in Kabul
Security has been stepped up in Kabul amid fears of further riots
A night-time curfew is in place in Kabul and soldiers continue to be dispatched across the city in their armoured cars, or carrying heavy weapons on the back of pick-ups.

But it was a quiet day in the Afghan capital on Tuesday - quite a contrast to the unexpected and violent protests of the day before.

The day started nervously with none of the usual traffic jams on the streets of Kabul, but by the afternoon the cars were piling up once again as normality slowly returned.

There is still not an official figure for the number of people killed or injured in the rioting, but there were heavy bursts of firing for two hours at the height of the violence and many buildings were burned.

For hours, law and order broke down - the police could not cope with the hundreds of people who were demonstrating, setting fire to cars and police checkpoints and marauding through Kabul.

It was the worst violence this city has seen since the end of the Taleban, and it revealed a much deeper problem than many in Kabul have been prepared to admit.

Different perceptions

The spark was a road crash - an accident that the American-led coalition said on Tuesday was caused by brake failure on a truck heading down a hill into Kabul.

"The driver, very experienced in the operation of this kind of vehicle," a coalition spokesman said, "took evasive action to avoid hitting pedestrians including hitting several unoccupied parked cars in an effort to slow the truck."

Armoured cars speeding through log-jammed roads, and the way US troops are perceived as gung-ho, has contributed to anti-American sentiment

And the reason for the convoy, he added, was "a logistics mission in support of our efforts to help the Afghan people".

Those who witnessed the crash saw it differently.

They saw an American convoy ploughing into civilian vehicles and then eyewitnesses and a government official said the US troops then opened fire into the crowd, not just over it.

It was that which raised tempers - a high-level western official admitted the immediate aftermath of the crash "was not handled well".

It is a perception which started the spontaneous protests off, and no doubt there was an element of organisation in the rioting that followed.

Little improvement

On the whole, people have supported the international community's efforts in Afghanistan, but the armoured cars speeding through the log-jammed roads and the way American troops are perceived as gung-ho has contributed to the anti-American sentiment.

President Karzai has criticised the coalition for not taking enough care to avoid civilian casualties in bombing raids, innocent people have on a number of occasions been fired upon by nervous soldiers for approaching checkpoints in the wrong manner.

People are not happy because the aid money has not reached them... people are getting poorer each day
Kabul resident

A shopkeeper in Kabul summed up the more reasonable viewpoint of Kabulis: "We support the presence of the American forces in the current situation as they have come here under the mandate of the United Nations - right now we need these troops.

"But there is a lot of poverty and a lot of problems with unemployment - I am not happy with the way aid money has been given out."

And that is perhaps more at the root of the problem than anything else - the feeling that despite the billions of dollars of aid and the new democratic systems, many of the poorest people have not noticed much of a difference.

Another man in the market was more critical.

A boy stands in front of a Chinese restaurant destroyed in Monday's riots
Buildings were set alight in Monday's rioting

"We have started opposing the Americans because a year ago if they had an accident they would come out and apologise and they would pay compensation, but now they don't do that, and people have started losing their patience.

"People are not happy because the aid money has not reached them - there are no new irrigation canals, no roads and people are getting poorer each day."

They have promised to pay compensation for the victims of Monday's road accident - and to investigate further the claims that troops fired on the crowd, but the anger from the people is much more serious and more difficult to resolve quickly.

For now, everything is back to normal, but those internationals working to help Afghan people will perhaps understand that things are not going as well as they thought.




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