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Thousands March on Afghan Capital, Supporting Amnesty for War Criminals


Thousands of former mujahedin rallied in central Kabul to support a controversial new amnesty law. The legislation would grant amnesty to Afghans suspected of committing war crimes over three decades of violent upheaval dating back to the Soviet invasion. Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from VOA's bureau in Islamabad.

Local officials say more than 10,000 people joined the rally, one of the largest held in Kabul in several years. Witnesses say hundreds of young men paraded through the city after the rally, many shouting "Death to America."

Parliament recently passed legislation to grant amnesty to former mujahedin leaders who may have committed war crimes during more than a quarter-century of violence in Afghanistan.

Human rights groups have denounced the bill, which is awaiting President Hamid Karzai's signature.

Sam Zarifi, Asia research director at Human Rights Watch in Washington, says many of the legislation's leading supporters are also among its biggest beneficiaries.

"Unfortunately the Afghan parliament is dominated by warlords and many of the perpetrators of past and current crimes," notes Zarifi. "It is really a tragedy that this parliament is now being used by these figures to put their interests ahead of the nation." He says Friday's rally was an attempt by some of those warlords to bully Mr. Karzai into signing the new legislation.

Afghanistan's military chief of staff, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Energy Minister Ismail Khan attended the rally. Both men were well-known mujahedin and helped lead the resistance against the occupying Soviet Union during the 1980's.

But Zarifi says both men are also known to be warlords with long records of abuse and crime. "To say that these people have any kind of political legitimacy is a mistake," he says. "Their only legitimacy has been in the past and continues to come from the barrel of a gun, and now, unfortunately, their exalted position in government."

President Karzai has told reporters he will review the legislation and consult Islamic and constitutional experts before making a decision on signing it.