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Thousands in Anti-US Protests in Afghanistan - 2001-09-26

In Afghanistan's capital, thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest possible U.S. military strikes against the Taleban. Neighboring Pakistan says it will keep its border with Afghanistan closed to refugees, despite the flood of people trying to escape Afghan cities.

The demonstrators threw stones and ripped the U.S. symbol from the abandoned U.S. embassy, setting fire to several vehicles at the compound.

Taleban militiamen later brought the fires under control. The U.S. Embassy has been abandoned for years - well before the Taleban took control of Kabul in 1996.

Wednesday's demonstration was the biggest show of anti-American anger in Kabul since the United States demanded the Taleban turn over Osama bin Laden - the chief suspect in U.S. terror attacks that killed more than 6,000 people. Taleban leaders have refused to hand over Mr. Bin Laden, saying he is innocent of the terrorism charges.

Meanwhile, fighting in northern Afghanistan has intensified since the United States began beefing up its military forces in the region for possible retaliation against terror suspects. Members of the ruling Taleban movement say its forces have retaken a key northern district that it lost to the opposition Northern Alliance earlier this week. It is difficult to confirm the details of the fighting because of a lack of independent observers in the region.

Anti-Taleban forces have offered to help the United States if it decides to take military action against alleged terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

Fears of a possible U.S. attack have forced tens of thousands of Afghans from their homes to try to avoid being caught in the military action. The United Nations says nearly one million Afghans could arrive in neighboring Pakistan, which is refusing to open its border for the time being.

Abbas Sarfaraz is Pakistan's Minister's for Refugee Affairs. "At this point in time, given the situation that we have, there is no plan to open the border," he said. "However, if there is situation whereby within Afghanistan the situation becomes untenable, by that I mean if there is an attack on Afghanistan, then purely for the sake of humanitarian reasons, we would contemplate that."

Pakistani officials have asked the international community for $122 million in aid to handle any refugee crisis. Pakistan has emerged as the key player in the U.S. led anti-terrorism efforts because it is the only country that has diplomatic ties with the Taleban movement. But a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Ministry, Riaz Mohammad Khan, reiterated Wednesday his country will not join any military action against Afghanistan. "Pakistan cannot and can never join any hostile action against Afghanistan or against the Afghan people," he said. "It is the fight against terrorism in which Pakistan is part of the international community. And we want the Afghan government also be responsive to what the international community is asking them to do."

Pakistan has promised full support for the U.S. campaign to get alleged terrorist mastermind, Osama bin Laden, who lives in Afghanistan under Taleban protection. Pakistani leaders say they have no plans to cut diplomatic ties with the Taleban as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have done. They say keeping a dialogue open with the Islamic movement could help avert a military confrontation.