Officials in central Afghanistan said Saturday clashes between aid-seeking protesters and police have killed at least four civilians, including a journalist, and injured 14 others.
The violence came as a coronavirus-related shutdown and partial border closures with neighboring countries have disrupted food deliveries into landlocked Afghanistan. The restrictions increased prices in a country where officials estimate more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line.
Saturday’s clashes erupted after dozens of people gathered outside the governor’s office in impoverished Ghor province to protest what they said was a lack of official assistance for their poverty-stricken families.
Provincial Governor Nasar Khazi told VOA some of the protesters were carrying arms and tried to attack and set fire to his office before police opened fire to disperse the crowd. He said ensuing clashes also injured four Afghan security personnel.
Demonstrators said a local radio journalist was also among the dead.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) denounced as worrying” reports of police firing at protesters. "Completely unacceptable. The AIHRC team in Ghor are looking into details,” tweeted Shaharzad Akbar, the watchdog’s chairperson.
The Afghan public health ministry has confirmed coronavirus infections surpassed 4,000, including 106 deaths, as of Saturday.
The Afghan government launched an emergency relief program this month to distribute bread to hundreds of thousands of families across Afghanistan to mitigate the economic impact of counter-pandemic restrictions.
The spike in essential food prices is taking place during the ongoing Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, posing additional trouble for many Afghans.
The pandemic has hit the country as an almost 19-year-old war between Afghan security forces, backed by a U.S.-led foreign coalition, and Taliban insurgents has intensified in recent weeks.