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Taliban tries to control airport crowds as Kabul evacuations continue

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The Taliban have fired in the air and used batons to force people desperate to flee Afghanistan to form orderly queues outside Kabul airport, a day after seven people were killed in a crush at the gates.

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On Sunday, there were no major injuries as gunmen beat back the crowds and long lines of people formed, the witnesses said, and Washington said it was now able to get large numbers of Americans into the airport.

Britain’s defence ministry said seven Afghans were killed in the crush around the airport on Saturday as thousands tried to get a flight out, a week after the Islamist militants took control of the country.

“Conditions on the ground remain extremely challenging but we are doing everything we can to manage the situation as safely and securely as possible,” the ministry said.

A NATO official said at least 20 people have died in the past seven days in and around the airport. Some were shot and others died in stampedes, witnesses have said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called a meeting of leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations on Tuesday to “ensure safe evacuations, prevent a humanitarian crisis and support the Afghan people”.

Panicked Afghans have tried to board flights out, fearing reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law the Sunni Muslim group exercised while in power two decades ago.

Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul last Sunday, have begun talks on forming a government.

The United States and other foreign countries including Britain have brought in several thousand troops to help evacuate foreign citizens and vulnerable Afghans, but have been careful to avoid clashes with the Taliban.

A Taliban official said “we are seeking complete clarity on foreign forces’ exit plan.”

“Managing chaos outside Kabul airport is a complex task,” the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters.

On Sunday, a Pentagon spokesman said the US would deploy 18 commercial aircraft to transport people who have been flown out of Afghanistan.

Australia ran four flights into Kabul on Saturday, evacuating more than 300 people. The Netherlands said it would increase its military presence in Afghanistan to help evacuation efforts.

President Vladimir Putin rejected the idea of sending evacuees to countries near Russia, saying he did not want “militants showing up here under cover of refugees”.

The Taliban’s seizure of power came as US-led forces were withdrawing after a 20-year war that President Joe Biden sought to conclude.

On Saturday, former President Donald Trump called it “the greatest foreign policy humiliation in US history, even though his administration negotiated the withdrawal deal last year.

Forces holding out against the Taliban in northern Afghanistan said this weekend they have taken three districts close to the Panjshir valley where remnants of government forces and other militia groups have gathered.

Ahmad Massoud, son of one of the heros of Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance in the 1980s, said he would not surrender areas under his control to the Taliban, al-Arabiya TV reported on Sunday.

Massoud called on the formation of a comprehensive government to rule the country with the participation of the Taliban, warning that war will be “unavoidable” if the insurgents refuse dialogue, the TV channel said.

Taliban leaders are set to meet former governors and bureaucrats in more than 20 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces over the next few days to ensure their safety and seek cooperation, the Taliban official said.

-AAP

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