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Security Forces Beat Back Kabul Bank Customers

  • Les Carpenter

A run of customers demanding their money and wanting to close their accounts led the beleaguered Kabul Bank Wednesday to open just one branch office.

That's where more than 200 customers, many of them state workers who are paid through the largest bank in Afghanistan, gathered to demand their salaries.

They were met by Afghan security forces that used batons to beat back the patrons.

Although the government says Kabul bank has not been taken over by the central bank, a central bank official has been named chief executive officer after the banks two top directors resigned amid allegations of corruption.

On Monday, the central bank ordered the assets of the two directors and those of several other shareholders and investors frozen, pending an inquiry. Some 250,000 government workers are paid through Kabul Bank and such news led some of them to demand their money saying they need the funds to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

One customer says he arrived at the bank at "5:00 am to get my salary. They didn't let me go inside the bank", he said, adding "Anyone trying to enter the bank will be beaten up by the police. I am still here." Other protesters at the bank branch were making threats of further unrest if the problem is not solved quickly.

A man identified as Mohammad Rahim warned that "If bank officials do not respond positively, the next step will be to attack all Kabul Bank branches and loot their property." He adds that "We are even ready to loot the presidential palace if my children are made to suffer."

Corruption is a widespread complaint among ordinary Afghans, something it's feared will be a major factor in national elections set for September 18th.

Washington is concerned that the problem may boost the Taliban insurgency and make it more difficult to strengthen the government enough for its security forces to take charge of security in the country.

Ironically it was the U.S. media that reported that two bank officials were forced to resign for allegedly mismanaging funds and spending money on risky real-estate ventures that started the run by bank depositors. The Afghan government has denied the allegations and President Hamid Karzai tried to reassure depositors, saying that all their money would be guaranteed by the government.