Taliban urge Afghan unity as protests spread to Kabul


The Taliban called on Afghanistan's imams to urge unity when they hold their first Friday prayers since the regime seized control of the country, as protests against the takeover spread to more cities on Thursday, including the capital, Kabul.

Several people were killed when Taliban militants fired on a crowd in the eastern city of Asadabad, a witness said. Another witness reported gunshots near a rally in Kabul, but they appeared to be Taliban firing into the air.

On the day Afghanistan celebrates its independence from British control in 1919, a social media video showed a crowd of men and women in Kabul waving black, red and green national flags.

"Our flag, our identity," they shouted.

At some protests elsewhere, media reported people tearing down the Taliban's white flag.

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Some demonstrations were small, but combined with the desperate scramble of thousands of people seeking to flee the country they underline the challenge the Taliban face in governing.

Kabul has been largely calm, but 12 people have been killed in and around the airport, NATO and Taliban officials said.

The US military said more than 5,200 American troops were guarding Kabul airport, where multiple gates to the facility are now open, while U.S. fighter jets were flying over the city to ensure security for the evacuation operation for diplomats and civilians including some Afghan citizens.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said "fully processed" people were currently at the Kabul airport and would soon be boarding planes. A source told Reuters that White House officials told a congressional briefing that the United States already had evacuated 6,741 people, including 1,792 American citizens and legal permanent residents.

The Taliban swiftly conquered Afghanistan as U.S. and other foreign troops withdrew, surprising even their own leaders and leaving power vacuums in many places.

The Taliban urged unity ahead of Friday prayers, calling on imams to persuade people not to leave Afghanistan.

Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face, saying they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of the Sharia law.

When in power from 1996-2001, they severely restricted women's rights, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues. They were ousted in a 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

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