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Afghan peace envoy buried to angry scenes

Thousands of mourners buried slain Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani on Friday, in chaotic scenes that undercut calls from President Hamid Karzai to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban.

world Updated: Sep 23, 2011 20:54 IST

Thousands of mourners buried slain Afghan peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani on Friday, in chaotic scenes that undercut calls from President Hamid Karzai to pursue reconciliation with the Taliban. Angry Rabbani supporters threw stones at government vehicles at the burial site in Kabul, and chanted "Death to America, death to Pakistan, death to Karzai" before being dispersed by guards who fired warning shots into the air.

As he was buried on top of a hill overlooking Kabul, a sea of thousands of people jostled around the coffin waving black flags and placards and continuing to shout slogans alleging a range of conspiracies over the assassination.

Kabul police deployed thousands of extra officers as part of a lockdown aiming to prevent further spectacular insurgent strikes in the city following Rabbani's death and last week's 19-hour attack targeting the US embassy.

A key Tajik ally of Pashtun Karzai, Rabanni was president during the 1992-1996 civil war before becoming chairman of the High Peace Council.

He was assassinated at home in Kabul on Tuesday by a bomber who hid explosives in his turban, and who had purported to be a peace emissary from the Taliban leadership.

He was the most senior national leader killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 American invasion and his death leaves the government looking more vulnerable than ever to targeted insurgent attacks.

The chaos at the burial site was in stark contrast to the quiet atmosphere at the heavily fortified presidential palace where hundreds of diplomats and officials filed past the body to pay their respects as it lay in state.

The president, who did not attend the burial, insisted Tuesday's murder would not derail efforts to reach out to insurgents.

"The blood of the martyred (Rabbani) and other martyrs of freedom requires us to continue our efforts until we reach peace and stability," Karzai said.

"We will continue our efforts to reach peace which was the wish of martyred ustad (professor) but at the same time time, we consider it as our responsibility to fight the enemies of peace with determination."

He referred to insurgents as "deceived sons of this country", but Rabbani's supporters said they wanted revenge for his death.

Enayatullah, a Tajik university student, said: "We are all grieving, people here have lost a great leader.

"We vow to take the revenge for Burhanuddin Rabbani. We also demand that the government detain those behind the killing.

"We want those who organised this meeting (Rabbani's ultimately fatal meeting with the turban bomber) to be put on trial, even if they are members of the High Peace Council."

Several thousand extra police were deployed "on the highest state of alert" for the funeral, officials said, with the army and intelligence service also on standby.

Police, some in armoured vehicles, and intelligence agents lined the streets while a large security cordon was in place in the area near Rabbani's home, where cars were banned and pedestrians were searched.

Karzai has said the assassin gained access to the 71-year-old Rabbani by bringing a CD with an apparent "message of peace" from the Taliban.

The attacker apparently waited four days for Rabbani to return from an overseas trip before detonating his explosives as the pair embraced in greeting.

Unusually, the Taliban have so far refused to comment on Rabbani's killing, but Afghan police and intelligence officials have blamed the militia.

Afghanistan's spy agency, the National Directorate of Security, said it believes the Taliban's leadership body, the so-called Quetta Shura, was involved in the killing but has given no further details.

The Taliban are leading an insurgency against Karzai's government and the 140,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan in support of the administration.

First Published: Sep 23, 2011 20:50 IST