Taliban violently break up women’s protest in western Afghan city

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Authorities dispersed a women’s rally in Afghanistan’s western city of Herat on Sunday, with protesters claiming they were beaten by Taliban forces who fired shots in the air.

Scores of students turned out in protest at a Friday suicide bombing on a Kabul classroom that killed and wounded dozens of pupils as they prepared for exams.

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The bomber blew himself up in the women’s section of a gender-segregated study hall in a Kabul neighborhood home to the historically oppressed Shia Muslim Hazara community.

The United Nations said at least 35 people were killed and another 82 wounded, most of them girls and young women.

On Sunday, more than 100 women -- mostly Hazara -- marched in Herat against the attack, which was one of the deadliest in recent years to strike the minority group.

“Education is our right, genocide is a crime,” the protesters chanted as they made their way from Herat University to the office of the provincial governor.

Dressed in black hijabs and headscarves, the protesters were stopped from reaching the office by heavily armed Taliban forces, who also ordered journalists not to report on the rally.

“We had no weapons but were only chanting slogans as we marched,” protester Wahida Saghri told AFP.

“But they beat us with sticks and even fired in the air to disperse us. Please carry our voice across the world because we are not safe here.”

Another group of women students prevented from protesting in the street staged a separate rally on the campus of the university, footage obtained by AFP shows.

“We were unable to go out as Taliban security forces shut the main gate of the university,” protester Zulaikha Ahmadi told AFP.

“We then chanted slogans and called for the opening of the gate, but they dispersed us by firing into the air.”

Demonstrators are heard in the footage shouting “open the door, open the door” after which a Taliban member beats them with a stick.

The group is then seen dispersing as gunshots are heard in the background.

Women’s rights protests have seen tense standoffs with authorities since the Taliban returned to power, with demonstrators detained and rallies broken up by aerial firing.

Female activists have still tried to stage sporadic protests, most in Kabul, against a slew of restrictions imposed on them by the Taliban.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for Friday’s attack at the Kaaj Higher Educational Centre in the capital.

But ISIS regards Shias as heretics and has previously staged attacks in the area targeting girls, schools and mosques.

Hazaras have also been targeted in Herat in recent years.

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