Afghan security forces fired warning shots to disperse angry protesters in Kabul after some of them tried to storm the gate of the presidential palace. Demonstrators were in the capital protesting the beheading earlier this week of seven civilians, including three women, by militants allegedly linked to Islamic State (IS).
The victims, members of the minority Shi’ite Hazara ethnic community, were kidnapped more than a month ago and authorities found their headless corpses in the southern Zabul province this past Sunday.
The demonstrators carrying the coffins marched through the streets of the Afghan capital despite heavy rain and cold weather before gathering in front of the presidential palace.
They were chanting anti-government slogans and demanded security and safety for civilians. Afghan television stations carried live coverage of the massive rally.
Protesters also chanted "Down with Taliban" and "Down with Daesh" (Arabic acronym for IS).
WATCH: RFE/RL video report "Hazaras Protest Beheadings In Kabul"
Calls for top officials to resign
Rally participants also called for President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, to step down, accusing them of neglecting the victims after they were kidnapped.
Afghan security forces fire warning gunshots to disperse the angry demonstrators after some of them tried to storm the gate of the presidential place.
A large number of women are also among the protesters in Kabul and they have vowed not to disperse until their demands are met.
Protest rallies were also reported in other parts of Afghanistan.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) condemned the murder of the seven civilians.
A statement issued Wednesday quoted UNAMA chief Nicholas Haysom as saying that the deliberate murder of civilian hostages, including women and children, is particularly abhorrent.
“These senseless murders may amount to war crimes and the perpetrators must be held accountable,” Haysom said, adding the U.N. Mission expresses its sincere condolences to the families of the victims.
Ghani urges calm
President Ghani called for calm and said a speical investigation is underway into the incident to bring the killers to justice.
“We want peace and progress in Afghansitan and we all should demonstrate national unity to defeat enemy attempts to divide us," said the Afghan president in a nationally televised address Wednesday.
The Islamic State group, which controls large parts in Iraq and Syria, is slowly extending its influence in parts of Afghanistan.
Some in Afghanistan have accused the Taliban of carrying out the beheading of the civilians. A spokesman of the Islamist insurgency, Zabihullah Mujahid, when contacted, told VOA the Taliban has nothing to do with the incident.
Instead, he claimed its fighters have taken action against Daesh insurgents responsible for the violence and have eliminated them from Zabul.
Mujahid went on to assert that deadly clashes in the Afghan province over the past week were not between Taliban rival factions as had been reported in the media.
They were between Taliban and Daesh fighters to punish the rebels for committing atrocities against Afghan civilians, he added.