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Northern Alliance breaks up crowd of ex-king's supporters in Herat

HERAT, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Armed with guns and rocket launchers, Northern Alliance soldiers dispersed a crowd of about 200 Wednesday voicing support for the former king of Afghanistan.

The gathering outside the main mosque in Herat lasted about 45 minutes before it was broken up. The demonstrators voiced support for the U.N. plan for Afghanistan and the return of former King Mohammed Zahir Shah.

Many held posters of the former monarch while listening to speakers, who urged the United Nations to bring in a multinational peacekeeping force to ensure security in Afghanistan.

The speakers said they did not want to go back to pre-Taliban days when Afghan cities and towns were divided in factions constantly fighting each other.

The United Nations has called for the creation of a broad-based transitional government to represent the interest of various ethnic and minority groups in Afghanistan.

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The former monarch, now 87, has lived in Italy since his ouster in 1973 after a 40-year reign. He has said he does not want to rule as king but has offered to help establish a representative government.

Soon after the crowd was dispersed, Ismail Khan, a commander who previously ruled the city and has reinstalled himself as governor, spoke to a group of the city's elders, dismissing the demonstrators as troublemakers and mercenaries of foreign powers.

Khan is an ethnic Pashtun. However, Herat is home to many ethnic minorities, including Hazaras and Tajiks. Hazaras, who are Shiite Muslims, suffered greatly under the Taliban, who are predominately Sunni Muslim.

"The rights of all ethnic groups should be preserved and respected," Mohammad Hasan Kaffash of the Shiite Assembly of Solidarity of the Muslim Nation of Afghanistan, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "This freedom is the result of everybody's efforts and everybody should benefit from it."

The Taliban rose in part due to the fighting among the various warlords and Afghan factions in the early 1990s.


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