Several people were killed in Asadabad of eastern Afghanistan when Taliban militants opened fire on a crowd on Thursday, when flag-waving protesters took to the streets of more Afghan cities as popular opposition to the Taliban spread.
The deaths in Asadabad, capital of the eastern province of Kunar, took place during a rally, but it was not clear if the casualties resulted from gunshots or from a stampede that it triggered, witnesses said.
Men and women waving black, red and green national flags gathered in the capital Kabul on Thursday, the day Afghanistan celebrates independence from British control in 1919.
“Our flag, our identity,” the crowd shouted.
According to Reuters, gunshots were fired near the rally, but they appeared to be armed Taliban shooting in the air.
One woman walked wearing an Afghan flag around her shoulders, and those marching chanted “Allahu Akbar (God is greatest)”. At some protests elsewhere, media have reported people tearing down the white flag of the Taliban.
A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Some of the demonstrations are small, but combined with the ongoing scramble by thousands of people to get to Kabul airport and flee the country, they underline the challenge the Taliban face to govern the country.
The Islamist militant movement conquered Afghanistan at lightning speed as foreign troops withdrew, surprising even its leaders and leaving them to fill a power vacuum in many places.
Since seizing Kabul on Sunday, the Taliban have presented a more moderate face to the world, saying they want peace here, will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women here within the framework of Islamic law.
During their previous rule from 1996-2001, they severely restricted women’s rights, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.
In Asadabad, hundreds of people came out on the streets on Thursday. “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in, I took out the flag I have at home,” a protester said.
Protests also flared up in the city of Jalalabad and a district of Paktia province, both also in the east.
On Wednesday, Taliban fighters fired at protesters waving flags in Jalalabad, killing three, witnesses and media reported. Media reported similar scenes in Asadabad and another eastern city, Khost, on Wednesday.
“Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation,” First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is trying to rally opposition to the Taliban, said on Twitter.
Saleh said on Tuesday he was in Afghanistan and the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled as the Taliban took Kabul.
Other former Afghan leaders, including ex-president Hamid Karzai, have been holding talks with the Taliban as they put together a new government.
US President Joe Biden said the Taliban must decide if they wanted international recognition.
“I think they’re going through a sort of existential crisis about: Do they want to be recognised by the international community as being a legitimate government? I’m not sure they do,” Biden said in TV interview aired on Thursday.