One day after the largest protests in its recent history, the Afghan capital had settled into an uneasy calm. But anger against the government, judging by social media, was still boiling under the surface.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets to demand justice for seven hostages who had been beheaded in Zabul province. The slain were members of the Hazara ethnic minority, their captors have been billed as Taliban, Taliban splinter groups, or even Da’esh, as the Islamic State is called.
The largely peaceful protest descended into violence in late afternoon, with security forces firing into a large crowd attempting to storm the presidential palace. Eight people were reported injured, but there are no confirmed reports of deaths.
The demonstration, as well as the action by security forces, was captured live on television.
President Ashraf Ghani gave met with members of the victims’ families in a televised session Wednesday evening. In an emotional, at times angry speech, he blasted the protesters.
“Those who scream ‘death to the president’ are giving aid to the enemy!” he thundered.
In a rare show of unanimity within the badly fractured “National Unity Government,” CEO Abdullah and his Vice President, Hajji Mohammad Mohaqeq supported the president.
The reaction from the population was largely negative. Mohaqeq, especially, raised hackles with his remarks that those behind the protests were losers in the election, taking revenge for their lack of success. He also criticized the demonstrators for parading the coffins through town, “like butchers carrying meat.”
This standoff between the people and their government continued into Thursday, with sympathy protests erupting in Mazar, Herat, and Jalalabad.