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    Tuesday, 11 September 2018

    Suicide bomber kills 68 in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province

    The death toll from a suicide attack on Afghan protesters has soared to 68, officials said on Wednesday, as violence flares across the country ahead of elections and a key Islamic holy day.
    The bombing on Tuesday in the eastern province of Nangarhar was the latest in a wave of deadly insurgent attacks which has claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians and security forces across Afghanistan.
    The blast wounded another 165 people, provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said.
    The Nangarhar health department confirmed the toll.
    Scores of demonstrators had blocked the highway between the provincial capital of Jalalabad and a major Pakistan border crossing in protest over the appointment of a local police chief when the suicide bomber blew himself up.
    There has been no claim of responsibility for the massacre, but the militant Islamic State (IS) group, which has carried out most of the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan, is active in the province.
    The dead and wounded were rushed to several hospitals in the back of pickup trucks and ambulances, overwhelming doctors and nurses as they struggled to cope with the huge number of casualties.
    Zar Khan, one of the injured, told AFP he saw a young man get out of a car and run towards the protesters shouting “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest).
    “Then the explosion happened and I found myself surrounded by blood and flesh,” Khan said from his hospital bed.
    It was the deadliest attack since an ambulance packed with explosives detonated in a crowded street in the heart of Kabul in January, killing more than 100 people, mostly civilians. That bombing was claimed by the Taliban.
    Violence across the country has intensified in recent weeks as the Taliban make gains on the battlefield and IS launches deadly urban attacks.
    It comes as Afghanistan enters a typically violent period of the year: the holy month of Muharram, which began on Tuesday.
    Ashura, the most important Shia observance, falls on the 10th day of Muharram and is often marred by deadly attacks.

    Peace hopes fading

    The fighting has tempered optimism that had been tentatively growing as Afghan and international players ratchet up efforts to convince the Taliban to negotiate an end to the 17-year conflict.
    An unprecedented ceasefire in June followed by talks between United States officials and Taliban representatives in Qatar in July raised hopes that peace negotiations could bring an end to the fighting. There has been speculation the two sides will meet again this month.
    The Taliban have long insisted on direct talks with Washington and refused to negotiate with the Afghan government, which they see as illegitimate.
    The intensified fighting has also fuelled speculation over whether Afghanistan's long-delayed parliamentary elections will go ahead on October 20.
    The country's stretched security forces will be tasked with protecting thousands of polling stations around the country at a time when they are already struggling to beat back insurgents.
    Delivering ballot papers and monitoring the vote, which is seen as a test run for next year's presidential election, will be challenging, officials have warned.
    There are already concerns about widespread fraud.
    In recent days, Taliban fighters killed nearly 60 members of the security forces in a spate of attacks in the country's north and threatened a provincial capital for the second time in as many months.
    A 14-year-old student was killed and four others wounded in the first attack, he said.
    No one immediately claimed responsibility for any of the attacks, but both Taliban insurgents and the Islamic State group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar province.
    The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack.
    Hours earlier three schools were hit by bombings in the provincial capital of Jalalabad. At least one child was killed and several people were injured, a spokesman for the provincial education directorate told VOA.
    There were no claims of responsibility for the attacks in Jalalabad, where almost all recent bombings and militant raids against civilian and educational facilities have been claimed by Islamic State.
    The Afghan affiliate of Islamic State, known as IS Khorasan Province (ISK-P), and the Taliban insurgency both operate bases in Nangarhar next to the border with neighboring Pakistan.
    Taliban makes advances, drought worsens
    Taliban insurgents have been conducting battlefield attacks since Saturday, focusing on northern Afghan provinces. The raids have reportedly killed about 140 Afghan security forces and brought more territory under insurgent control.
    The spike in violence comes amid a severe drought.
    The United Nations Office for the Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan said the conflict and the drought have displaced half-a-million Afghans since the beginning of the year.
    “The total displacement due to the drought has reached a total of 275,000 people, exceeding the number of people displaced by conflict in 2018 by 52,000 people,” the agency said. 

    At least eight people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up among protesters in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, an official said, in the latest violence to hit the country.
    Another 35 were wounded in the blast in Nangarhar province, where people had blocked a highway in protest over the appointment of a local police chief, provincial governor spokesman Ataullah Khogyani said.
    Provincial health department spokesman Inamullah Miakhil gave a slightly lower toll of five dead.
    "Dozens of wounded people have been brought to Jalalabad hospitals so far," Miakhil added.
    The attack came hours after a double bombing in front of a girls´ school in the provincial capital of Jalalabad killed a boy and wounded four others.
    The first explosion happened in front of Malika Omaira girls´ school at around 8:30 am (0400 GMT), Khogyani told AFP earlier.
    A second bomb went off as students from a neighbouring boys´ school and locals gathered at the scene, he added.
    There has been no claim of responsibility for any of the attacks, but the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) group are active in Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan.

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