61 Dead, 207 Wounded As Blast Strikes Hazara Demonstration in Kabul

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Afghan volunteers carry the bodies of victims at the scene of a suicide attack that targeted crowds of minority Shiite Hazaras during a demonstration at the Deh Mazang Circle of Kabul. — AFP

KABUL (AP): A powerful explosion on Saturday ripped through crowds of minority Hazaras in Kabul who had gathered to protest over a power line, killing at least 61 people and leaving 207 others wounded, Afghan public health ministry said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the blast, but it comes in the middle of the Taliban’s annual summer offensive, which the insurgents are ramping up after a brief lull during the recent holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Most Hazaras are Shia Muslims but most Afghans are Sunni.

Eyewitness Ramin Anwari described seeing up to eight bodies in the Demazang area, where protesters were preparing to set up a camp after a four-hour march. He had no further details.

One of the march organisers Laila Mohammadi said she arrived at the scene soon after the blast and saw “many dead and wounded people”.

Footage on Afghan television and photographs posted on social media showed a scene of carnage, with numerous bodies and body parts spread across the square. Seddq Sediqqi, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said police were working to confirm initial reports of the blast.

Violence had been feared at what was the second demonstration by Hazaras over the power line issue. The last one in May attracted tens of thousands of people, also shutting down the central business district.

It was attended by Hazara political leaders, who were notable by their absence on Saturday. At the height of the march, demonstrators chanted slogans against President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, shouted “death to discrimination” and “all Afghans are equal”.

The so-called TUTAP line is backed by the Asian Development Bank with involvement of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The original plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, in the central highlands, where most of the country’s Hazaras live.

That route was changed in 2013 by the previous Afghan government. Leaders of the marches have said that the rerouting was evidence of bias against the Hazara community, which accounts for up to 15 per cent of Afghanistan’s estimated 30 million-strong population.

They are considered the poorest of the country’s ethnic groups, and often complain of discrimination. Bamiyan is poverty stricken, though it is largely peaceful and has potential as a tourist destination.

Afghanistan is desperately short of power, with less than 40 per cent of the population connected to the national grid, according to the World Bank. Almost 75 per cent of electricity is imported.

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