KABUL: Fighting broke out between government-backed forces and police loyal to a regional leader in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, over a move to replace the city’s police chief.
Supporters of Atta Mohammed Noor, who defied President Ashraf Ghani’s order to step down as Mazar’s governor two years ago, blocked the appointment of Abdul Raqib Mubarez, the man chosen by Ghani to replace Noor’s ally Akram Same.
There were reports of gunbattles across the city, with one officer killed and 18 people wounded, many of them police.
Deputy Interior Minister Khoshal Sadat said Same refused to “leave his post and accept” Mubarez’s appointment by Kabul.
The ministry’s spokesman, Nasrat Rahimi, confirmed the exchange of hostilities, adding that at least 20 of Same’s followers were arrested.
Video footage showed young girls fleeing to safety in deserted streets with small arms fire heard in the background.
On Wednesday night, Noor called for a complete shutdown of the city, and warned of repercussions if people resisted.
“I call upon all residents of Mazar to stay indoors. Shops and markets must be kept shut until further notice,” he said in a statement.
Mazar resident Shoiab Qarlook told Arab News: “People are worried. There are clashes in several parts, people were caught by surprise when they heard the firing.”
Noor is a supporter of Haneef Atmar — Ghani’s main rival in the upcoming presidential elections in July — and was among dozens of politicians who met with Taliban representatives in Moscow a few months ago.
Speaking in Kabul, Atmar called the government’s decision to appoint Mubarez “irrational,” accusing Ghani of deliberately stirring tensions.
The UN expressed concern over the violence, whilst the US ambassador urged security forces to remain “calm,” and not to “fight each other over political disputes” in a post on Twitter.
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