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Protesters Surround Afghan Hospital in Fury at Friend's Brutal Death


Hundreds of friends and relatives of an Afghan man executed by Taleban insurgents last week led a furious protest outside the hospital where his body is being kept. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports their anger was directed not at the killers, but at the central government and local hospital staff.

Syed Agha was kidnapped March 5 along with Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo and an Afghan translator in the southern province of Helmand.

Mastrogiacomo was released by his captors Monday, but he told reporters he was forced to watch the Taleban behead Agha, who was working as his driver.

A Taleban spokesman said Agha was executed after an insurgent "court" convicted him of being a spy.

On Tuesday, Agha's friends and family gathered outside the Italian-run hospital near Lashkar Gah where his body is being kept.

Hundreds of people blocked off the hospital's main emergency entrance and tried to keep Mastrogiacomo, who spent the night there, from leaving the building.

They demanded information about Agha's death, and shouted anti-government slogans.

One protester said the government cares more about the Italian than his Afghan staff.

Mastrogiacomo was reportedly released from captivity after a series of negotiations involving Afghan and Italian authorities and his Taleban captors.

Taleban spokesmen say the Afghan government released at least four prisoners, all of whom held senior positions in the militant insurgency.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Afghan Justice Minister Abdul Rahimi refused to provide details, but confirmed some form of exchange had taken place.

"There were some demands, and to some extent the demands were fulfilled," he said.

The Italian journalist says his hands and feet were bound throughout most of his 15-day ordeal.

He was captured while traveling through Helmand Province, which remains one of the Taleban's primary battlegrounds.

Anti-Italian sentiment has been on the rise there after the Italian parliament recently voted to extend its troop deployment in Afghanistan.