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Hundreds of Afghans Protest NATO Air Raid Deaths

Ahmad Mustafa in Ghazni and Sharafuddin Sharafyar in Herat

The roof of the Intercontinental hotel is lit up by an explosion during a battle between NATO-led forces and suicide bombers and Taliban insurgents in Kabul June 29, 2011. (photo: REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)

GHAZNI, Afghanistan - Hundreds of people gathered in a restive Afghan province to protest the deaths of two young shepherds they said were killed by a foreign air strike on Wednesday, an Afghan official said.

Elsewhere, 32 men from a mine clearance organisation were kidnapped by unknown gunmen in the west of the country, a provincial governor said.

NATO-led forces said an air strike killed one man in Ghazni province, southwest of Kabul, after he was observed digging in the road at a spot where a homemade bomb had previously been buried.

"We have reports that an individual who was planting an IED (improvised explosive device) in a road in Khogyani district was observed and subsequently engaged by an air strike. The individual was killed," said ISAF spokesman Major Tim James.

Residents of Khogyani took two bodies to the provincial capital, Ghazni city, provincial police chief Zelawar Zahed told Reuters. The residents said both were shepherds, not insurgents, and had been killed in an air strike.

Around 250 people demonstrated in Khogyani and then tried to take their protest to Ghazni City but only around 50 were allowed to enter, Khogyani district governor Munshi Habib said.

Protesters chanted slogans like "death to foreign troops" for around two hours, before dispersing peacefully, Zahed added.

ISAF said there was only one death reported from the air strike on the road in Khogyani.

The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces.

As violence has spread across the country, casualties have risen, and the United Nations said May was the deadliest month for civilians since they began keeping records four years earlier.

However, the United Nations also said insurgents are responsible for the majority of deaths, over 80 percent of the 301 civilians killed in May.

Separately on Wednesday morning in western Farah province, unknown gunmen kidnapped 32 members of a de-mining team, and burnt one of their vehicles, Farah provincial governor Rohullah Amin said.

They were in the Bakwa district at the request of residents and elders promised to work for their release, Amin said.

Insurgents have been suspected of organising past kidnappings of de-mining teams in other parts of the country. Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf said the group was not aware of any kidnapping in Farah.

(Reporting by Ahmad Mustafa in GHAZNI and Sharafuddin Sharafyar in HERAT; Writing Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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