26 killed in blast targeting Afghan President Ghani’s campaign rally

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A suicide bomber on a motorcycle targeted a campaign rally by President Ashraf Ghani in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing at least 26 people and wounding 31, officials said. Ghani was present at the venue but was unharmed, according to his campaign chief.

Just hours later, an explosion struck near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing at least 22 people and injuring scores more.

The Taliban insurgent group claimed responsibility for the two blasts, saying attacks targeted Afghan security forces.

The violence comes as Afghanistan faces presidential elections on Sept. 28. The Taliban have warned that polling stations and election campaigns would be targeted.

In Tuesday’s suicide attack, the bomber rammed his motorcycle packed with explosives into the entrance of the venue where Ghani was campaigning on the outskirts of the city of Charakar in northern Parwan province.

Women and children were among the causalities, Parwan hospital director Abdul Qasim Sangin told AFP, adding 42 people were injured as well as the 26 dead.Wahida Shahkar, spokeswoman for Parwan’s governor, said the rally had just begun when the explosion occurred.

Firdaus Faramarz, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, said the attack in the heart of the Afghan capital took place near Massood Square, a deeply congested intersection in the center of Kabul. NATO and U.S. compounds are located nearby as are several Afghan government ministries.

Campaigning for the Afghan elections resumed last week after President Donald Trump declared that the U.S.-Taliban talks which have been going on for months in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar are over.

Most presidential candidates had suspended their campaigns while negotiations were taking place and as the U.S. peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a deal was all but signed.

Trump’s tweets at the beginning of September declaring the deal and the talks were “dead” launched the war-battered nation on an election campaign.

Ghani, who had been sidelined during much of the talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban, resumed campaigning immediately and had been steadfast in his demand that presidential polls should take place.

Khalilzad and some of Ghani’s rivals, however had talked of establishing an interim administration to run the country while a peace deal was implemented.

In the aftermath of the scrapped talks, Afghans braced for what many expected to be an increase in violence.

The Taliban have opposed the elections and have refused to meet with representatives of Ghani’s government for talks. They have also refused to agree to a cease-fire.

But it was two attacks in Kabul in recent weeks that caused Trump to halt the negotiations with the Taliban, including one that killed two NATO soldiers, one of whom was an American. Another U.S. soldier died in combat in Afghanistan on Monday.

Turkey on Tuesday condemned the deadly bomb attack on Ghani’s election campaign rally.

“We strongly condemn this terrorist attack that targets the democratic process in Afghanistan and wish God’s mercy upon those who lost their lives, speedy recovery to the wounded, and convey our condolences to President Ghani, the friendly Government and the brotherly people of Afghanistan,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement said.

The ministry said they hoped the presidential election process takes place in a peaceful and secure atmosphere.

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