By Arash Dabestani
There are conflicting claims over who started the shooting
Violent clashes, which have left a number of people dead and wounded in the usually-calm northern Afghan province of Jowzjan, have led to fears of bloodshed and ethnic tension in the region.
The trouble began on 26 May in Aybak, capital of nearby Samangan Province, after local MP Ahmad Khan accused the notorious, Jowzjan-based Uzbek leader Gen Abdorrashid Dostum of trying to kill him.
Mr Khan had escaped an assassination attempt a few days earlier in which his driver and bodyguard were killed.
Addressing demonstrators, he said Gen Dostum and the police chief of Samangan had been behind the attack.
Accusations were made against Gen Dostum
Mr Khan called for the perpetrators to be "brought to book, otherwise "residents themselves" would take action, he warned. Demonstrators then burnt effigies of Gen Dostum.
Pro-Dostum protestors took to the streets of Aybak the next day to condemn Ahmad Khan's remarks. According to Aina TV, which is close to Gen Dostum, the protestors demanded that the authorities "restore the dignity" of the general.
A local official of the Jonbesh-e Melli Eslami-ye Afghanistan (National Islamic Movement), founded by Gen Dostum, called on the judiciary to investigate the MP's "irresponsible and baseless" remarks.
Another local party official said Ahmad Khan had organised the attack himself "in an effort to portray a bad image of Gen Dostum among the people".
Protests turn violent
Protests had spread to the Jowzjan capital, Shebergan, by 28 May. Around 1,000 people took to the streets in support of Gen Dostum.
They chanted slogans against Jowzjan Governor Joma Khan Hamdard, an ethnic Pashtun, for "his rank inefficiency, narrow-minded nationalism and ethnic prejudice", and called for his removal "for the sake of ethnic harmony".
Governor Hamdard: Protesters want him removed
The sequence of events leading to the shooting dead of at least seven civilians remains unclear, with claims and counter claims about which side started the firing.
The interior ministry in Kabul blamed Gen Dostum's supporters for staging a "rebellion". A statement broadcast by Afghan state radio said police had taken "legal measures to restore order".
"Unfortunately, the demonstrators carried out armed attacks against the police," the ministry said.
But a statement attributed to Gen Dostum, broadcast by Aina TV, blamed Governor Hamdard for the violence.
"The people of Jowzjan have run out of patience with the exercise of his organised fascist and autocratic programmes which are dictated by specific political groups," the statement said.
Meanwhile, Mr Hamdard entered the fray. Speaking to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press, he appeared to stand his ground, saying he would not leave Shebergan: "The people are with me. I will not leave the city as long as the Afghan president has not ordered me to do so."
Mr Hamdard also accused Iran and Russia of funding Gen Dostum.
Daily protests in Shebergan calling for the removal of Hamdard continue. The demonstrators have vowed to gather every day until Hamdard is dismissed.
"We don't want a governor that works only for Pashtuns. We want a new governor," said Sayed Nurollah, the head of the Jonbesh party.
There are fears of more bloodshed in Jowzjan
Although not violent so far, reports indicate that the city is tense and divided. Schools are closed and Nato forces are in place alongside the Afghan army and police.
Pro-Dostum demonstrations have taken place in other northern provinces, including in Maymana, capital of neighbouring Faryab.
As a possible sign of government worries, the cabinet is to hold a meeting devoted to the issue.
Meanwhile, a delegation headed by Deputy Interior Minister Munir Mangal has arrived in Sheberghan to investigate the incidents.
President Hamid Karzai has also ordered that compensation be paid to the victims of the "shocking incident".
Perhaps sensing the mood in the north, newspapers have been quick to call on the government to deal with the situation quickly.
Weesa's editorial urged the government "to make every effort to extend security and rule of law". Kabul Weekly warned that "there is a strong possibility that this minor bloodshed will turn into a huge flame".
"As Jowzjan Province is the centre of power of Gen Dostum and the Jonbesh-e Melli, any incident will affect the provinces in which there are the supporters of Dostum," the paper concluded.
The concerns seem to be justified. Gen Dostum has called for an impartial probe into the "dreadful and inhuman crime."
"Otherwise, we will not remain indifferent to such crimes", he warned.
And over video footage of the protests, Aina TV reported that a memorial service for the dead would be held at Sheberghan's Grand Mosque on 1 June.
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