Afghanistan VP lightly wounded in deadly Kabul blast

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KABUL (AFP) – Afghanistan’s vice president Amrullah Saleh sustained minor injuries Wednesday when his convoy was targeted in Kabul in an explosion that killed at least 10 people and wounded more than a dozen, officials said.

The attack was quickly condemned as an attempt to frustrate the Afghan peace process, coming as the government prepares to send negotiators to the Qatari capital of Doha for long-delayed talks with the Taliban.

In a video posted on Facebook soon after the explosion, Saleh, an outspoken Taliban critic, said he had been travelling to his office when his convoy was attacked.

“I am fine but some of my guards have been wounded. My son, who was in the car with me, and I are both fine,” Saleh said, with bandages on his left hand.

“I have some burns on my face and hand. The blast was strong.”

Tareq Arain, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said the explosion targeted Saleh’s convoy.

“Unfortunately, 10 civilians, mostly people who were working in the area, were killed, and 15, including a number of the first VP’s bodyguards, were wounded,” he told reporters at the scene.

Saleh is the senior of Afghanistan’s two vice presidents.

The Taliban, who have pledged not to launch attacks in urban areas under a deal with the United States, denied responsibility.

Abdullah, a shopkeeper who gave only one name, said the blast had blown out his windows.

“A shop that sold gas cylinders also caught fire, causing the cylinders to blow up,” he said.

Saleh survived an assassination attempt last year ahead of presidential elections.

At least 20 people — most of them civilians — were killed and 50 others wounded when a suicide attacker and gunmen targeted Saleh’s Kabul office at that time.

‘Enemies of peace’

The EU in Afghanistan said Wednesday’s attack was a “desperate act by spoilers of peace efforts”, while NATO’s mission in the country said in a statement that “enemies of peace” were ignoring the will of the Afghan people for peace talks to begin.

President Ashraf Ghani, who met Saleh soon after Wednesday’s blast, condemned what he said was a “terrorist attack” on his first deputy.

“The terrorists and their foreign backers cannot undermine the people’s strong faith in peace, democracy and the bright future of our country,” Ghani said in a statement.

Saleh on Sunday said Kabul’s negotiating team would push early on at peace talks for a permanent truce.

“The first test for the Taliban is (a) ceasefire,” Saleh told Tolo News.

“If they accept the ceasefire, they are committed to peace. If not, they are not.”

Even as preparations for negotiations continue, violence on the ground has carried on unabated, with the Taliban unleashing daily attacks.

“These attacks shatter the hopes of the millions of Afghans who dream (of) peace and are looking forward to seeing the start of peace talks and end of violence,” Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman for Ghani, tweeted on Tuesday.

Peace talks were supposed to begin in March but were repeatedly delayed over a prisoner swap that included the release of hundreds of battle-hardened insurgents.

Paris and Canberra in particular have opposed the release of six Taliban militants because of their links to the killings of French and Australian civilians and troops.

Saleh said Sunday the six inmates would be sent to Qatar.

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