Tens of thousands of ethnic Hazaras marched through the streets of Afghanistan's capital Kabul protesting against the planned route of a multi-million dollar power transmission line. On the early hours on 16 May (Monday), members of the minority ethnic group hit the streets leading to the presidential palace in central Kabul.
However, roads leading to the city's commercial centre were blocked by police, who used shipping containers to prevent any vehicles or pedestrians from entering the area, according to AP. Most of the shops remained shuttered, while the main intersections were policed.
The Hazaras — a Shia community — are demanding that the electricity line linking mineral-rich Central Asia pass through two provinces dominated by them. However, the government says such a move will add millions to the cost and also delay the project by years, leaving millions without secure electricity, Reuters reported.
The original plan was routed through a province where the majority of the Hazaras live. However, the plan was changed by the previous Afghan government in 2013.
The proposed power line plan is backed by the Asian Development Bank with involvement of Central Asian countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Aghanistan and Pakistan (TUTAP).
"We want our rights," Abdul Rauf Safari, a 35-year-old protester from central Afghanistan, said. "We will no longer accept discrimination and there is no way the government can ignore us this time."
The minority community had staged a similar protest in November 2015, when the demonstration turned violent.
The US Embassy in Kabul has closed its consular section and issued a warning to Americans to restrict their movement within Kabul, sending out an emergency message: "Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence."
The Hazaras constitute about 15% of the total population of Afghanistan — around 30 million — and make up the third largest ethnic group in the country.
Political commentator Haroun Mir said: "This is a mobilisation and I know many Tajiks [people of Tajikistan] are supporting Hazaras, not because absolutely they want this thing to go through Bamiyan but because they hate this government and this is an opportunity for them to further weaken it."