KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Protests calling for better security in Afghanistan broke out in several cities on Thursday, a day after an estimated crowd of 10,000 descended on the presidential palace in Kabul in response to the brutal killings of seven people from the minority Hazara ethnic group.
Hundreds of demonstrators marched through the streets of major cities in Balkh province in the north, Herat in the west and Nangarhar in the east, holding aloft banners with photos of the Hazaras who were found beheaded on Saturday in rural southern Afghanistan. The protesters demanded for better security for all Afghans.
The Hazaras' coffins were carried through the streets of Kabul on Wednesday in one of the largest-ever demonstrations in the city, attracting participants from all of Afghanistan's ethnic groups. Harazas, a predominately Shiite minority, have been the victims of a number of large-scale abductions this year, raising fears that insurgents were attempting to stoke ethnic and sectarian divisions.
Organizers met with government leaders late Wednesday to press their demands and were waiting Thursday for a response, said Lilia Mohammadi, a protest leader.
The bodies of the four men, two women and child would be taken back to the victims' native Ghazni province on Thursday for burial, Mohammadi said.
The Afghan government has said the seven were killed by "non-local terrorists." The Afghan spy agency dismissed Taliban claims that they had been killed by affiliates of the Islamic State group.
They had been seized in Ghazni up to six months ago, officials have said. Their bodies were found in an area of neighboring Zabul province where rival Taliban factions — one backed by IS loyalists — have been fighting for almost a week.
The Kabul government has been battling Taliban-led insurgents for 14 years. Security has deteriorated this year as the insurgency has spread.
The demonstrations, however, have been seen as a show of unity, bringing together members of all Afghan ethnic and sectarian groups.
President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation on live television on Wednesday, vowing revenge for the killings.