An Afghan policeman sits guard on a rooftop overlooking an Ashura procession… (S. Sabawoon / EPA )
KABUL, Afghanistan -- Violence broke out at the annual Shiite Muslim observance of Ashura here Saturday, but on a much smaller scale than security authorities in Kabul had feared.
At least one person was killed and 16 others were wounded in clashes Saturday night between Shiite and Sunni students at Kabul University. But earlier in the day, Shiite marched in processions through city streets without serious incident one year after a suicide bomber killed more than 70 people at an Ashura procession in the capital.
Security was exceptionally tight all day, and most shops and offices were closed because of fears of violence after last year’s bombing. Police announced that they had foiled a suicide bomber in the capital.
In neighboring Pakistan, a roadside bomb killed at least seven worshipers during a Shiite procession in the northwest Pakistan city of Dera Ismail Khan on Saturday, Reuters reported.
In Kabul, the university clashes began when Shiite students sought to celebrate the holiday inside a mosque on campus, according to Gen. Mohammed Daud Amin, deputy Kabul police chief. Sunni students moved to block the Shiites, and the two groups began fighting and throwing stones.
Police moved in, firing into the air to disperse the groups and restore order, Amin said. Injured students were taken to hospitals.
At one point during the clashes, some students reportedly climbed aboard police vehicles lugging suitcases and possessions. Abdul Azim Nurbakhsh, a spokesman for the Ministry of Higher Education, announced late Saturday that universities will be closed for 10 days to let tempers cool.
Ashura is the 10th day of the Muharram month of mourning. Commemorated in Afghanistan by the Hazara ethnic group, it marks the Battle of Karbala in AD 680, where the grandson of the prophet Muhammad, Imama Hussein Ali, was killed and later revered by Shiites as a martyr.
-- Special correspondent Hashmat Baktash contributed to this report.
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