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Afghan City Returns to Normal After Deadly Riots - 2004-09-13

Afghanistan's western city of Herat is slowly returning to normal, a day after angry protesters burned several international aid compounds and clashed with security forces, leaving at least seven people dead.

The deadly protests in Herat erupted after Afghan President Hamid Karzai fired the long-time provincial governor and a powerful Islamic warlord, Ismail Khan, on Saturday.

Hundreds of people, angry at Mr. Khan's dismissal, took to the streets Sunday and attacked U.N offices and those of international aid groups. Some aid workers took refuge in bunkers while others were evacuated to a U.S military compound.

But in a televised statement late Sunday, Mr. Khan called for his supporters to exercise restraint, while authorities announced that further violence would be countered with military force. A nighttime curfew was imposed.

Eyewitnesses and officials say the city is returning to normal, with government and U.S-led coalition forces patrolling the streets.

A U.S military spokesman, Major Scott Nelson, told reporters in Kabul that authorities have also started disarming fighters loyal to the ousted governor.

The violence in Herat took place less than a month before Afghanistan's landmark presidential elections. Major Nelson says security in the city is a concern, but all efforts are being made to ensure long-term stability there. "This disturbance will not disrupt the transfer of governmental authority in Herat, the upcoming free elections or continued peace and stability in Afghanistan," he says.

Ousted governor Ismail Khan is a veteran leader of the fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980's, and a harsh critic of President Karzai. He has previously declined to step down from office and ignored pressure to disarm his private militia as part of a national disarmament campaign.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, the U.S ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, warned against further violence in the city. "The use of violence, intimidation, direct or indirect manipulation of people to attack people who have come to assist Afghanistan's normalization is unacceptable," he says.

Most of the casualties in the violence in Herat were civilians hit by bullets reportedly fired by Afghan police and army personnel in their efforts to keep order.

The U.S military says that 15 of its soldiers and three Afghan troops were injured in the clashes with protesters, but it says coalition forces did not fire a single round.

Separately, Major Nelson said 22 suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants, including three Arabs, were killed in a gun battle Sunday with U.S.-led forces in southeastern Afghanistan.