At least 61 dead and wounded people were Saturday rushed to a Kabul hospital following a powerful explosion that ripped through a crowd of minority Shiite Hazara protesters, the health ministry said.
“The dead and wounded were taken to Istiqlal hospital near the blast scene,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Ismail Kawoosi told AFP.
Ambulances were struggling to reach the scene as authorities had overnight blocked key intersections with stacked shipping containers to prevent protesters from marching on the presidential palace.
The nature of the blast was not immediately clear, Fraidoon Obaidi, chief of Kabul’s Criminal Investigation Department, told AFP.
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.
“I was in the crowd of protesters when a loud bang occurred nearby. Many people have been killed or injured -- I am in deep shock,” protest organiser Jawad Naji told AFP.
The demonstrators had gathered to demand that a multi-million-dollar power line pass through their electricity-starved province of Bamiyan, one of the most deprived areas of Afghanistan with a large Hazara population.
The 500-kilovolt TUTAP power line, which would connect the Central Asian nations of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with electricity-hungry Afghanistan and Pakistan, was originally set to pass through the central province.
But the government re-routed it through the mountainous Salang pass north of Kabul, saying the shorter route would speed up the project and save millions of dollars.