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Afghanistan's Interior Ministry reports at least 80 people were killed and 231 wounded in a suicide bombing. Militant group "Islamic State" claimed responsibility for the attack which targeted a Hazara protest in Kabul.
According to officials and witnesses, a suicide bomber or bombers targeted a demonstration by members of the Hazara minority in Afghanistan's capital on Saturday.
Television footage showed a scene of carnage at Demazang Square. The country's Interior Ministry reported that at least 80 people were killed and more than 230 were wounded.
Ministry spokesperson Waheed Majroeh said that toll was likely to rise "as the condition of many of the injured is very serious."
In a statement carried by the group-affiliated news agency Aamaq, the "Islamic State" (IS) group said two of its fighters had carried out the attack, mentioning that they had targeted a gathering of Shia. Most members of the Hazara minority are Shia Muslims while most of Afghanistan's population is Sunni.
Power line protest
Before the explosions, the demonstration had been largely peaceful. Protesters had chanted slogans against the country's president and chief executive, yelling "death to discrimination" and "all Afghans are equal."
At least 10,000 people attended the protest, according to event organizer Mohammad Arif Rahmani as quoted by the German news agency dpa. They had been demanding that a planned 500 kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to Kabul be rerouted through two provinces with large Hazara populations; an option the government said would add extra costs and time delays.
Back in May, a similar demonstration attracted tens of thousands of people. An earlier plan routed the line through Bamiyan province, where most of the country's Hazaras live, but that route was changed in 2013 by Afghanistan's previous government.
Hazara people are estimated to make up about 9 percent of Afghanistan's population and have long complained of discrimination. They experienced severe persecution under the Taliban's rule.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he was "deeply saddened" by the attack.
"Holding protests is the right of every citizen of Afghanistan and the government puts all efforts to provide security for the protesters, but terrorists entered the protests, and carried out explosions that martyred and wounded a number of citizens including members of security forces," a statement from the presidential palace said.
Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah took to Twitter to condemn the attack by "terrorists."
The US embassy in Kabul, as well as the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, US Army General John Nicholson, condemned the attack.
In a rare move, the Taliban, which has been waging an insurgency against Afghanistan's government since being overthrown in the US-led invasion of 2001, issued a statement denying any involvement in the attack.
se/jlw (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)