Several people were killed on Thursday in the Afghan city of Asadabad when Taliban fighters fired on people waving the national flag at an Independence Day rally, a witness said, a day after three people were killed in a similar protest.

The protests by people waving the Afghan flag, in some cases after tearing down white Taliban flags according to media, are the first signs of popular opposition to the Taliban since their stunning advance across the country and capture of the capital, Kabul, on Sunday.

It was unclear if the casualties in Asadabad resulted from the firing or from the stampede that it triggered, witness Mohammed Salim said from the eastern city, the capital of Kunar province.

“Hundreds of people came out on the streets,” Salim said. “At first I was scared and didn’t want to go but when I saw one of my neighbours joined in I took out the flag I have at home.”

“Several people were killed and injured in the stampede and firing by the Taliban.”

A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

There were also protests but no reports of serious violence in the eastern city of Jalalabad and a district of Paktia province, media reported.

Afghanistan celebrates its 1919 independence from British control on August 19.

On Wednesday, Taliban fighters fired at protesters waving the black, red and green national flag in Jalalabad, killing three, witnesses and media reported.

Media reported similar scenes in Asadabad and another eastern city, Khost, on Wednesday with protesters in some places tearing down the white Islamic banner of the Taliban.

First Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is trying to rally opposition to the Taliban, expressed support for the protests.

“Salute those who carry the national flag and thus stand for dignity of the nation,” he said on Twitter.

Saleh said on Tuesday he was in Afghanistan and the “legitimate caretaker president” after President Ashraf Ghani fled as the Taliban took Kabul.

CALL FOR END TO AIRPORT CROWDS

The crackdown on protests will raise new doubts about Taliban assurances they have changed since their 1996-2001 rule when they severely restricted women, staged public executions and blew up ancient Buddhist statues.

They now say they want peace, will not take revenge against old enemies and would respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

While Kabul has been generally calm since Taliban forces entered on Sunday, the airport has been in chaos as people rushed for a way out of the country.

Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since then, a NATO and a Taliban official said. The deaths were caused either by gun shots or by stampedes, the Taliban official said.

He urged people who do not have the legal right to travel to go home. “We don’t want to hurt anyone at the airport,” said the Taliban official, who declined to be identified.

The United States and other Western powers pressed on with the evacuation of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from the capital’s airport, from where about 8 000 people have been flown out since Sunday, a Western security official said.

Under a pact negotiated last year by former President Donald Trump’s administration, the United States agreed to withdraw its forces in exchange for a Taliban guarantee they would not let Afghanistan be used to launch terrorist attacks.

The Taliban also agreed not to attack foreign forces as they left.

President Joe Biden said US forces would remain until the evacuation of Americans was finished, even if that meant staying past an August 31 US deadline for withdrawal.