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Truck Accident Sparks Riots in Afghanistan


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: what the locals think about plans for a really big explosion in the Nevada desert right where they used to set off atomic bombs. First, this has been a rough day for American troops in Afghanistan. A U.S. military convoy ran into a traffic jam in Kabul. At least one civilian died, more were injured in the accident.

People got angry. There was a riot and the worst street violence since the fall of the Taliban almost five years ago. At least eight people have been killed, dozens have been injured. Rachel Morarjee is a correspondent for the Financial Times. She's been watching these events unfold. She joins us from Kabul. Rachel, this began with, I guess, this accident involving U.S. troops. Do you know what happened?

Ms. RACHEL MORARJEE (Reporter, Financial Times): It's hard to say. The U.S. themselves say that a cargo truck ran out of control and plowed into at least 12 civilian vehicles. It's not clear from their statement exactly what role they played in the accident. They said they gave medical help to the injured that were on sight, and that one person was killed in the accident itself. It appears that an angry crowd quickly amassed around the U.S. vehicles.

CHADWICK: How is it that this accident turned into this huge riot, I guess, with thousands of people so quickly?

Ms. MORARJEE: I think that we're looking at a ground swell of resentment here that's been growing and building month on month, year by year. I've seen a steady deterioration and insecurity and a growing hostility to foreigners over the two years that I've lived here.

Also, bear in mind that this would be the second incident in which U.S. military have been involved in deaths of civilians in the last week. Up to 30 civilians were killed in a U.S. military air strike in southern Afghanistan less than a week ago. And I think that has also stoked public resentment.

CHADWICK: This was a strike in which U.S. forces said they had managed to kill some foreign fighters who were there, but there were civilian deaths as well.

Ms. MORARJEE: That's right. I think the Taliban had been sheltering in civilian houses, but the situation in southern Afghanistan has deteriorated so sharply. I just got back from there a week ago, and people were palpably scared and I thought it's not possible that Kabul could be an island that is untouched by this violence. I just didn't realize that it was going to come to such a head within a week.

CHADWICK: But, Kabul has been the most stable place and the most friendly place for Americans and for the coalition forces who are based there. You told someone on our staff who'd spoken to you earlier that you - now in Kabul - you're the most frightened you have been in the two years you've spent there.

Ms. MORARJEE: Well, certainly this morning I was the most frightened I've ever been. The demonstrations, the accident happened at about 8 a.m. By 11:00, a friend of mine phoned me and said don't go anywhere near there. He'd escaped narrowly with his life. Demonstrators had threatened to skin him alive because he was a foreigner.

Half an hour later at 11:30, and Afghan friend of mine phoned and said you'd better get out of your house, because the demonstrators are coming down your route and they're kicking in doors, they're torching buildings that they know foreigners are in. I lived with someone who works for the U.N., and our house is on the main road. There's a blue U.N. guard box outside my house which indicates that foreigners are living in this place.

So I called my driver, who arrived on back of his bicycle because the streets were passable for cars, and I put on a burkha and he cycled me through the crowds. We could see burning buildings and crowds of angry young men as we cycled over to his house.

CHADWICK: Well, what is the situation in Kabul now? Is the riot passed? Is it gone by?

Ms. MORARJEE: Things appear to have quieted down. When friends of mine were last on the street, there was still a lot of angry young guys with iron bars drifting about. I think things are calmer than they were this morning, but I don't think that we can say that it's categorically all over and things have gone back to normal. Kabul has been relatively secure, but we have seen a growing resentment towards the foreign community here.

Afghans see billions of dollars pouring in and they see foreigners driving around in land cruisers, living in houses with big generators, while they're still dealing with open sewers and power, perhaps, one day in three. And they're asking where all the money's going, and it's stoked resentment here.

CHADWICK: Rachel Morarjee, a correspondent for the Financial Times in Kabul. Rachel, thank you.

Ms. MORARJEE: Okay, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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