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Page last updated at 20:13 GMT, Friday, 24 October 2008 21:13 UK

Hundreds in anti-Taleban protest

By Pam O'Toole
BBC News

Demonstrators hold four portraits of the slain young men during an anti-Taleban rally
The incident may have turned public opinion against the Taleban

There have been large demonstrations in Laghman, eastern Afghanistan, against the killing of a group of local men who were pulled from buses by the Taleban.

Around 27 young men are thought to have died in the incident, which took place in the south of the country. Some were reported to have been beheaded.

The Taleban said those killed were all military recruits.

But locals say most of the victims were young men from Laghman province on their way to Iran to find work.

Demonstrators took to the streets in the provincial capital Mehtar Lam, chanting "death to the murderers."

The killings took place on a highway in Kandahar province last Thursday, close to the border with Helmand, where some of the bodies were found.

Day of mourning

The remains of twelve of the victims have already been returned to Laghman and buried there. Local officials say they expect more bodies to be shipped back shortly.

The provincial governor, Lutfullah Mashal, told the BBC that thousands of people had taken part in Friday's demonstrations.

Map

He suggested the killings had changed public perceptions of the Taleban. In Laghman, he said, even those who used to support the insurgents were now turning against them.

The Afghan government and its allies may be keen to use this incident to try to mobilise public opinion against the Taleban.

But the killing of these young men - said to be aged between 15 and 25 - has clearly stirred up deep emotions in their home province.

Thursday was a day of mourning across Laghman. Shops were closed, flags lowered, and prayer ceremonies held.

But people also want action.

Demonstrators called on the government to bring the culprits to justice and on people in the southern region where the young men died to help track down those responsible.



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